Student to attend biomedical research program

A recent tour of Henderson State University’s Simonson Biological Field Station this spring by two distinguished alumni turned into a unique opportunity for biology major Hannah Deputy.

Deputy was accepted into the Aspirnaut Summer Research Program this summer at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The program provides hands-on and mentored laboratory experiences for undergraduate students interested in a career in biomedical research.

It was cofounded by Dr. Billy Hudson, a 1962 graduate, and his wife Dr. Julie Hudson, in partnership with Billy’s siblings Johnny Hudson ’67 and Ann Kincl ’66.

As an intern in the program, Deputy will perform lab work with a scientific team for 10 weeks as they research diabetic neuropathy, kidney disease, and diabetics. The team includes mentors, other undergraduate and graduate students, post doctorate fellows, and primary investigators.

“It’s a great immersion experience where the interns are embedded in a team working on a scientific question to which we don’t know the answer,” said Julie Hudson.

Deputy said she was surprised by the invitation.

“I was elated when I learned I had been invited,” she said. “This experience will allow me to walk away with new skills and knowledge in the research of biomedical sciences. I believe it will ultimately play a role in deciding the career path I choose for my future.”

Deputy’s acceptance process began in March when Billy Hudson and his brother Johnny Hudson, a Henderson trustee, were visiting the Henderson campus and requested a tour of the Simonson Biological Field Station on DeGray Lake.

Dr. James Engman, professor of biology at Henderson, obliged and drove them to the facility near Bismarck.

“Our drive out to the station and back gave us time to talk about a number of things, and the conversation turned toward ways to involve more students in STEM education,” Engman said. “We discussed several programs we have in the biology department and at the field station to involve students in STEM experiences.

“Dr. Hudson and his wife Julie have the Aspirnaut STEM summer research program at Vanderbilt, and even though it was late in the process, he offered to find additional money to make a spot for a Henderson student this summer.”

Engman said Deputy, a sophomore biology major from Kirby, immediately came to mind.

“Hannah is a very strong student, is already conducting research in the biology department, and is shadowing in our introduction to biology laboratory in preparation to teach a course in our Undergraduate Teaching Program next fall,” Engman said.

Julie Hudson said Deputy is an “excellent candidate who seems very hard working and motivated. I think she will do a great job.”

Hudson said she hopes to bring more Henderson students into the program next summer.

“It always depends on funding,” she said. “We have federal grants for about 10 spots each year. We always try to find additional funding for the undergraduate portion of the program.”

Billy Hudson also envisions more cooperation between Vanderbilt and Henderson.

“It would be ideal to bring more Henderson students up to Vanderbilt,” he said. “We’ll have to raise money to do that, but we’re building a vision.

“Henderson was my foster home, and I would like to give back to the university,” he said. “The way I can give back is by bringing resources from our research program at Vanderbilt and forming a collaboration with scientists and professors at Henderson, primarily in the biology and chemistry departments.”

The Hudsons also want to partner with Teachers College, Henderson and extend the “discovery pipeline” into secondary schools.

“We need to reach students much earlier in their careers about the excitement of discovery,” Julie Hudson said.

Deputy said she has been impressed by the professionalism and caring nature exhibited by the Hudsons.

“They have been wonderful throughout the whole application process,” she said. “They have encouraged me to ask any questions and have been so kind to answer them.

“Their program is very goal-oriented and presents an outstanding research opportunity for undergraduate students like myself. Without them, this type of experience would be unattainable, and I am so thankful to them for allowing me to participate.”

Deputy said she plans to attend graduate school in the medical/biological field after she graduates from Henderson. She is considering medical school, as well as other medical related programs.

Deputy will participate in a research experience valued at $10,000, which includes an educational stipend, room and board and other costs. In addition to the 40-hour work weeks, Deputy will take part in other activities.

“We pack in a lot of other programming,” said Julie Hudson. “Their mentorship starts here with their mentors in the lab, but we also spend a one-on-one session with them in career mapping and doing an individual career development plan.

“They have access to GRE prep if they’re interested in applying to graduate school, access to science seminars, weekly luncheons with distinguished speakers, and are exposed to a number of career options. We want to arm them with a set of three-dimensional skills, not just skills in the lab. They grow so much through the experience.”

The interns’ connection to the program doesn’t end when their 10-week experience concludes.

“It’s not just a one shot summer experience for the students,” Julie Hudson said. “We intend to remain engaged with them long term as they progress through their educational and professional pathway. That’s why we call it K-20, because we really can provide resources, contacts, networking, and professional advice through that spectrum.”

Meanwhile, Billy Hudson was impressed with Henderson’s biology field station and wants to establish a research collaboration with Henderson.

“I found a spectacular facility and science playground for biology and chemistry,” he said. “The facility was well thought out with a mission of research and training students. The enthusiasm is fabulous. Students can be recruited to the university in the name of exploration of their environment.”

Hudson said he and Engman discussed researching fairy shrimp, a freshwater crustacean, and water fleas, which are one of the most abundant “lower” animals in DeGray Lake. Engman also wants to study freshwater sponges.

“His (Engman) aspect is more ecological, while mine is more medical,” Hudson said. “But there’s a middle ground where we can both enjoy discovery and bring students into it. And we’re not playing, we’re discovering. We’re working on real world problems that haven’t been solved.”

The Aspirnaut Summer Research Program began eight years ago and is supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health and donations.

Julie Hudson, program director and co-founder, is Vice President for Medical Center Relations at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and clinical associate professor of anesthesiology and pediatrics.

Billy Hudson, co-founder, is the Elliot V. Newman Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center; professor of biochemistry; professor of pathology, immunology, microbiology; and professor of cell and developmental biology; and director of the Center for Matrix Biology

To read more about the Aspirnaut program, go to