Success Stories

Alum studies cell migration

Brent Hehl

Brent Hehl grew up on a hog farm near Grand Valley in Coopersville, but he always knew he wanted to study cell biology. Entertaining a wide variety of schools, he submitted his sole college application to Grand Valley State University following an on-campus visit. After graduating in April 2008, he now continues his studies a little further away from home.

In June, Hehl began pursuing his Ph.D. in cell biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is one of two incoming students this year accepted into a unique partnership between UNC and the National Institutes of Health, the federal research engine that directly funds a vast portion of the nation's biomedical research.

“I get really excited thinking about cell migration. Virtually every major disease somehow involves the ability or inability of cells to move around. The researchers at UNC have a long history of propelling this field forward,” said Hehl. “The real icing on the cake was the additional support and resources from an institution like the NIH.”  

According to Hehl, receiving his undergraduate degree from Grand Valley greatly prepared him for graduate school. Hehl worked in the Admissions Office for three years, was president of Grand Valley's undergraduate affiliate with the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and participated in the McNair Scholars Program. McNair scholars receive GRE preparation, advising, and the opportunity to conduct novel research with a faculty member on campus over the summer.

“The McNair Scholars Program had a big part in solidifying my decision to go to graduate school, along with support of some great professors in the Cell and Molecular Biology department,” said Hehl. “My research experience with Dr. Brad Wallar was really significant in getting into graduate programs. Looking at my peers, I feel we are one of a handful of universities where undergraduates get such a great training in hands-on research, both in and out of the classroom.”    

Hehl's future plans are to finish his Ph.D. and further pursue a career studying cell migration. He would like to someday direct his own laboratory, either as a college professor or investigator at a research institution.

by Leah Burns