"Research transformed my path"

An interview with PLU student Tran Hoang ’20

PLU: Why did you chose to come to PLU?

Tran: I knew I wanted to go to a small liberal arts college because of small class sizes and close relationships with professors. I wanted to be able to just drop in and talk with professors because I knew that building relationships with my professors would help me later on.

PLU: Tell us about the student-faculty research project you did last summer.

Tran: Last summer, I worked with Dr. Tina Saxowsky, Associate Professor of Chemistry at PLU, to conduct research about DNA mutagenesis in yeast cells — essentially mutations occurring in a cell’s DNA. My project can be used to further understand drug resistance, which has applications for how we make antibiotics and potentially how we treat cancer.

Throughout my project, Dr. Saxowsky was so supportive. She understood that I don’t have years of experience and guided me through the process patiently, helping me learn as I went.

PLU: What made it possible for you to do this research?

Tran: My research opportunity last summer was made possible by the Huestis Endowment. If it hadn’t have been for those funds for student-faculty research, I probably wouldn’t have been able to participate at all. I would have had to do whatever I could to earn enough money to make ends meet. The funds allowed me to pay for housing and for costs going into the next academic year.

Donors who support student-faculty research at PLU make it possible for students like me who haven’t done research before to explore it and potentially change their vocation. That’s a privilege, and for many people that privilege comes down to affordability. Donors provide the missing piece for these students. I know the Huestis’s did for me.

PLU: What is one of your biggest takeaways from your time at PLU so far?

Tran: To review anything with an open mind to be willing to listen. I’ve developed a much more critical way of thinking because of my time at PLU. That’s helped me learn how to form my own ideas, but at the same time, my experiences here have taught me to stay open and listen.

That openness was so important last summer during my research project. Dr. Saxowsky handed me a huge stack of articles and research to review when I started, and I had to accept the fact that I didn’t know anything. Moving through the stages of not knowing to understanding to making mistakes is all part of the research process, and it takes a certain openness of mind and humility to navigate that.

PLU: How did your research opportunity inform what you plan to do next?

Tran: My research experience last summer reaffirmed for me that I want a career in research. Now I know research is the right career path for me and that I can use it to make a difference in the world.  

When I first arrived at PLU, I thought I wanted to go to medical school to be a pediatrician. That all began to change my first semester when I took a class about Race and Identity in the US. Because of that class, I combined my newfound awareness of social justice issues with my initial curiosity in medicine. From there, I became more interested in the accessibility of medicine for underserved communities and how research can have such a significant influence in healthcare policy reform.

After PLU, I’m planning to get a Master’s in Public Health concentrating in Health Policy and a PhD in Biomedical Sciences. Last summer made me feel confident I’m moving in the right direction.

What Your Gift Can Do

When you give to student-faculty research, you make possible for a student things like:

  • A mind-fueling meal ($15);
  • A conference registration ($250);
  • A flight to a research site ($500);
  • A place to stay for one month ($750); and
  • Full-time summer research ($5,000).

On the surface, these needs are straightforward, but what they make possible for a student like Tran is transformative.

“Student research is all of it,” says Bonny Huestis, who, with her late husband “Laurie,” created an endowment for student-faculty research. “Research is thoughtful inquiry, it’s service, it’s leadership, it’s care. Research helps students understand that they are always learning.”

Your gift today makes straightforward needs — and powerful experiences — possible for a PLU student researcher.