DSU sends two interns to Stanford

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Article by Aaron E. Palmer

Stanford University welcomed two Dixie State University students last summer after they were awarded biology internships earlier this year.

Ashton “AJ” Basile and Brian Caldwell, senior biology majors from St. George, hosted the Dixie Forum on Oct. 21 and discussed their internships at Stanford where they ran innumerable scientific tests to contribute to cancer research. Caldwell radiated cells to observe cancer growth, and Basile studied the embryonic brains of mice. Their forum topic was titled “Cutting-Edge Cancer Research: A Report from Stanford University.”

After DSU Awarded Basile and Caldwell the three-month internships, they relocated to study cancer at a cellular level over the summer at Stanford.  As the first non-Stanford students engaging in Stanford’s biomedical research program, their typical day included more than eight hours in labs and occasional seminars. 

The internships were the result of collaboration between DSU, Dixie Regional Medical Center and Stanford University.  At the forum, Lincoln Nadauld of the DRMC addressed the proficiency of excellent students.

“It is my strong belief that the top students anywhere, including at Dixie State, can compete with any other students in the world,” Nadauld said. “Why can’t we take some of our best and brightest and give them an opportunity to go and learn alongside the best and brightest at Stanford? … To the tremendous credit of DSU and DRMC, they agreed this made sense and provided funding for [those students].”

When flyers appeared on campus, 15 students applied.  An intramural committee of DRMC and DSU’s biology department officials screened the candidates and narrowed the pool down to two. The selection criteria and interviews allowed the committee to make the best decision.

“We wanted to make a good impression and select students we knew would be successful,” said Carole Grady, dean of the School of Nursing and Allied Health.

“I had to try,” Caldwell said. “I couldn’t let that opportunity pass by because what if I got chosen? What if I am the one that makes the cut? I started off as a lowly undergrad, but after each semester I saw my potential growing greater, and the next thing I know: I’m going to Stanford.  It was unreal.”

Biology Department Chair David Jones sat on the selection committee for the Stanford internships, and he said motivation set Basile and Caldwell apart from the other candidates.

“They are driven to comprehend,” Jones said. “They seek knowledge as opposed to receiving it.  Plenty of people are smart and have a lot of knowledge, but AJ and Brian have the souls of scientists.” 

And those souls proved invaluable. While at Stanford, Basile and Caldwell learned from mentors who gave them freedom to learn independently. 

“[My mentor] let me take over his research,” Caldwell said.  “I did everything myself.  My mistakes were my own, and the way I fixed them were my own … I felt [my mentor] wouldn’t like me, but it was the exact opposite.  I didn’t expect him to so quickly respect me — to go out of his way to help me.  And it wasn’t just him, but everyone in the labs.”

Working in facilities larger than the Holland Centennial Commons – chocked-full of million-dollar equipment – Basile and Caldwell shared workspace and tools with other students.  Enthusiasm electrified the air.  Everyone labored like bees, pursuing to bridge the gap between the discovered and unknown.

“We met world-class scientists, a Nobel-prize neuroscientist and Stanford’s best students, and I didn’t feel it was an intimidating environment,” Basile said.

Basile and Caldwell said as the weeks passed they realized something new.  The Stanford students “were no more special than we were,” they said.  The sole difference between them and the Stanford students was that Basile and Caldwell didn’t get official, seminar T-shirts.

And that’s it.

If Basile and Caldwell realized this, others should too.

The internships will continue next year due to Basile and Caldwell’s stellar impressions and the coordination between DRMC, DSU and Stanford. 

For more information about the Stanford internship opportunities, contact biology adviser Doug Sainsbery by visiting Room 131 in the Science Building, calling 435-879-4282 or by emailing [email protected]