Research Experience Helps Medical Student

Westmont alumnus discovers his year-long work with a chemistry professor made him a better thinker.

Mg74MK4_9306When he enrolled at Dartmouth Medical School, Aaron Barnes ’12 wondered how he’d compare to classmates from Ivy League schools. “I soon realized I was more prepared than most of them,” he says. “The education in the sciences I got at Westmont was top-notch.”

A double major in biology and chemistry, Aaron says the summer research he conducted with Professor Kristy Lazar Cantrell gave him an advantage few medical students could match. “I learned great scientific technique and how to assess a problem and come up with solutions and a logical approach. I also honed my research skills with scientific literature by reading dense research reports.

“Ironically, I discovered that research wasn’t for me, affirming my interest in medicine and greater interaction with people.” Cantrell’s long-term project studies peptide folding with possible applications in combating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Aaron received a stipend and housing for his work in the lab. “It was my job for the summer, and that made it feasible,” he says.

To extend this opportunity to more students, Westmont seeks to endow the chemistry department’s summer research program. The John Stauffer Charitable Trust awarded the college a $500,000 challenge grant that will match each dollar donated to the program through 2017 to create a $1 million endowment. When fully matched, the grant will fund housing and stipends for eight to 10 researchers.

Aaron and his wife, Juli, a nurse at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital, enjoy New England people and culture—even the weather. They grew up in Alaska and hope to return there.

“Medical school is the busiest and hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I love it,” Aaron says. He wants to work with his hands in orthopedics or a surgical specialty. “I look forward to using my profession every day, whether here or abroad, to help people.”

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