A very personal internship

A very personal internship

Senior Allison Schepers landed an internship at Grand Rapids’ premier medical research facility, Van Andel Institute. She’s helping to find a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a disease that took her grandfather’s life in 2009.

Although she didn’t know it when she interviewed for the position, Allison Schepers’ internship at Van Andel Institute (VAI) would take on meaning at both a scientific and personal level. 

“When I applied for the job,” said Allison, “I guessed I’d be helping with one of the cancer projects. So when I found out I’d be working on a study dealing with ALS, I was really excited.” ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. It’s a degenerative disease that causes muscles to waste away, but to Allison, it’s the disease that took her grandfather’s life in 2009. 

“I would have been happy to work in any of the labs, but working under Dr. Alberts held a particular significance. This was my chance to honor my grandpa.”

Calvin labs mimic real-world research work

When Allison began working at VAI, she’d just finished her sophomore year at Calvin. Like most biology, chemistry and pre-health science students, she had already received significant lab experience by that point.

“Most, if not all, of the classes we take at Calvin have laboratory components in which we work in groups to solve a problem or conduct some sort of experiment. What most people don’t realize is that’s exactly the sort of collaboration you’ll do out in the real world. At Van Andel, we were collectively working on an ALS study, but we each had our own job to do as well. My project involved measuring the motor function and pathological changes of mice with ALS, and it was important for me to know how to work and communicate with the rest of my team.”

Where real science happens

As a Calvin student, Allison also enjoyed the opportunity to grapple with controversial issues faced by the scientific community like Genetically Modified Organisms, animal testing and evolution. 

“In order to study the new compounds used to treat ALS, it’s necessary for us to test on mice. It’s been really good for me to be able to discuss scientific ethics within the bounds of a Christian community.” 

Her experience at VAI has helped to solidify her experiences in the classroom. “The opportunities VAI offers to students in the Grand Rapids area are amazing. I have learned so many new techniques and been able to work with people from all over the world at the same time. I’d encourage any student interested in science to apply. This is where science happens—in the lab. I’m so glad to have been part of this team.”

VERGE: winter 2011

First-Year Experience