As a native of Wheat Ridge, Colo., Erin Gallagher (’12) is frequently asked what drew her across the country to Emory & Henry in southwest Virginia. She says it was Mother Nature.
“I fell in love with the natural beauty of this place,” Gallagher said.
But what has kept her here have been high quality professors.
Excelling in the classroom, Gallagher was confident about her future. When the division chair for the Natural Sciences Dr. Melissa Taverner asked her what she wanted to do with her degree the answer seemed cut and dry.
“I told her I wanted to be a doctor,” recalls Gallagher. “I thought what else do you do with a science degree? I’m pretty sure her (Dr. Taverner’s) eyebrows crawled up into her hair.”
Dr. Taverner and the rest of the science faculty challenged her to volunteer at a hospital to ensure that this dream of becoming a medical doctor was something she was up to.
That summer, Gallagher spent time working in the emergency room of a top 100 hospital in the nation – Lutheran Medical Center in Colorado – where she quickly learned that the life of a medical doctor was not for her.
Instead she found herself being drawn to the field of chemical research.
“Chemistry allows you to work through a problem,” said Gallagher. “You are forced to sit down and think about a problem, breaking it down into the basic general and physical chemistry to find your way through to the solution.”
Gallagher completed two internships and a senior research thesis during her time at E&H. During her junior year, Gallagher was selected to work at Wake Forest University as part of a team that studied the protein that causes obesity. The summer before her senior year, she travelled to West Virginia University to perform research on artificial capillaries.
While on campus, Gallagher spent one year working with another E&H professor, Dr. Michael Lane, on ground-breaking research on silicon carbide films. Gallagher helped investigate ways to strengthen and insulate the films in an effort to fight corrosion in the thin films that are commonly used in small electronics.
Gallagher feels the quality of the education and faculty at Emory & Henry has prepared her for the rigors of graduate school. “The entire Chemistry Department really showed me the challenges I will face in graduate school, while reassuring me that I can do it,” Gallagher said.
When it came time for Gallagher to look at graduate schools, she once again returned to her professors. Lane, along with Dr. Jim Duchamp, advised her on finding a school that would be a good fit for the type of research she hopes to pursue.
In the end, Gallagher chose Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. While there, she expects to be conducting research on nutrient flow to the brain. She will help to build blood brain capillaries in the hopes of gaining a better idea on how gate keeper cells know what chemicals are allowed to reach the brain.
Eventually, she hopes to work for the National Institute of Health. It’s a dream she feels would not be necessary without the life changing experience she found on a beautiful campus tucked located in the inviting mountains of southwest Virginia.
“I am a much more confident person,” said Gallagher. “I know I can do research on my own, and that is truly empowering.”