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My MCW Story: Olivia Koehn

"Being a part of the SPUR program played a very large role in my decision to come to MCW for graduate school"

Published: June, 2016

Olivia Koehn enjoyed her MCW Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) experience so much that she decided to pursue her PhD in biomedical sciences here starting this fall.

Olivia Koehn“Being a part of the SPUR program played a very large role in my decision to come to MCW for graduate school. The ten weeks I spent in the program allowed me to realize that MCW was a place where I could work and be successful,” Olivia said. “It exposed me to all the things that MCW has to offer and helped me to comfortably accept my position in the graduate program because I had a better idea of the environment at the school.’ 

Olivia recently graduated from St. Norbert College with a major in biology and minors in mathematics and chemistry. She applied to the 2015 SPUR program at the advice of her undergraduate research mentor. MCW’s SPUR offers a summer internship experience for students considering graduate education and careers in health research. The MCW Graduate School matches the students chosen for the program with a faculty mentor who provide hands-on research opportunities.

“I was able to meet so many amazing people through the SPUR Program and learned much more than I thought was possible in ten weeks,” Olivia added. “There were a lot of technical skills that I was able to learn or improve upon, but I also really enjoyed hearing about the research that was being done at MCW. I was particularly proud of my final research presentation because of the fact that I was able to showcase what I had accomplished and that I was able to overcome my anxieties about speaking in front of people. I feel that this experience, and the SPUR program in general, allowed me to grow substantially and gave me more confidence in my abilities to be successful in the field.”

While in the SPUR program, Olivia worked with Dr. Jill Gershan on a project regarding adoptive cellular anti-cancer therapy and how this treatment could be optimized. She was tasked with cloning interleukin-15 receptor alpha (IL-15Rα) in order to express this gene in mouse T cells before the T cells are used for treatment of acute myelogenous leukemia.

Olivia is keeping her options open as far as the type of research she hopes to do in graduate school and beyond, although cancer research of some kind is high on the list.

“I think one of the best things about this program for me is the ability to rotate through different labs,” said Olivia. “I find a lot of different things interesting, so I hope this lets me find the area that I will be most passionate about.” 

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