December 2011

Five years of giving rural students second chances

 
From a rural gravel road to Vanderbilt 

Billy Hudson grew up on a 15-mile gravel road in rural Arkansas. “My address was Grapevine, Arkansas. The street was 40th and Plumb, meaning 40 miles from town and plumb-back in the sticks, as we’d say,” he says with a chuckle.

 feature_billy_hudson_video_conferencing 
Billy Hudson joins a videoconference science lab beamed to a rural Maine school.

Hudson’s childhood chores in the 1940s and 1950s included tending to cotton and taking care of 20,000 chickens and other livestock. The physical labor was accompanied by regular and spurious beatings, which his father meted out with tree branches with the message that Hudson was never good enough.

Unable to stand his father’s abuse and threats of violence any more, Hudson decided at the age of 16 to drop out of high school to work on a cotton farm. His history teacher and basketball coach, Robert Theus, “knew I was going to destroy my life. He was the one who first showed me a light and how I might get out of my circumstances,” says Hudson. “There are champions who come into your life to help you. I was fortunate.”

Theus took Hudson to Henderson State Teachers College (now Henderson State University) in Arkadelphia, Ark., where Hudson was allowed to enroll without a high school diploma. There he met chemistry professor and mentor Haskell Jones, who encouraged Hudson to complete a college degree in chemistry. A cafeteria supervisor, Alice Sloan, made sure Hudson had jobs to earn room and board. After Hudson completed one year of college, his high school decided to award him an honorary diploma. Several other mentors guided Hudson into getting a Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Iowa under the supervision of Rex Montgomery and Robert Barker. During that time, he studied carbohydrate chemistry.

The Vietnam War was on when Hudson graduated with his Ph.D. in 1966. He joined the army and was assigned to improve filtration membranes for dialysis machines at the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Boston. It was work on the dialysis machines and a lecture by Robert Spiro of Harvard Medical School that got Hudson interested in diabetes and the havoc it wreaks on the kidneys. That interest has led to understanding the basement membranes of kidneys, which act as a filtration barrier. Diseases such as Goodpasture and Alport syndromes and renal failure arise when there are defects in the basement membrane. Hudson’s research led to the discovery of the α3 and α4 chains of collagen IV, which, along with the α5 chain, create the essential meshwork for kidney filtration. His work also has found its way into clinical applications. “Before there was such a thing as translational science, he was doing it,” notes Hanson.

 

 

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COMMENTS:

I am truly greatful to have had such a great experience through the Aspirnaut program.This experience helped me get through the challenges i was facing, by giving me a place to look forward to going every day.it was my oasis and I loved every bit of it. I had fantastic mentors, and I was surrounded by great people who wantd to help me and whatch me achieve. I am truly greatful to this program for giving me the boost i needed to continue on, and giving me something to hold on to and remember. i know i will never forget the rope and the well story Dr.Hudson told me about. i learned so much and fell in love with biology all over again. Thank you once again for this amazing experience(Jessica Dix)

 

The Aspirnaut program changed my perspective about everything I knew about college. It gave me the confidence within to believe that I can achieve the dreams I had but thought would not come true. I know now that I am capable of anything I put my mind to. I owe a huge thanks to Drs. Billy and Julie Hudson. They are wonderful people who know just how to get involved with young people and give them an opportunity to become more knowledgeable. This was one of the best experiences of my entire life and I would not have as much knowledge as I do had I not gone. I really can not thank you more for making it possible to come to Vanderbilt and do research, it's really amazing that this had been made possible for all these kids. I am proud to be called an Aspirnaut student and hope to stay one for like. Thank you for givinge perspective and confidence this summer. I had a really great mentor and the time spent at Vanderbilt this summer was amazing. Thank you once again! -Haley Harrington

 

The Aspirnaut Program will probably be something I can hold on to for the rest of my life in whatever I do. As working in the Laboratory at Vanderbilt as part of this program, I have gain unprecedented knowledge that I wouldn't receive at my High School, probably not till college. Dr. Billy Hudson since day 1 of me arriving at this Internship was always supportive and reminded me I was special. Everyday I walked into the Lab with a new goal, a new responsibility, and a new set of skills that will always be with me. Now from this program I received an awesome amount of experience in a top Laboratory in the Country but most Importantly I gained new access to what I could become. Because of this program I don't know what I want to be between an Engineer, Doctor, Researcher, and a Businessman. As a Junior at Omaha High School in Omaha, Arkansas, I can only say Thank you Dr. Hudson for everything! Brennan Boone

 

As an undergraduate in Dr. Hudson’s lab since the summer of 2009, it is impossible for me to express enough admiration toward the Aspirnaut program. I have witnessed first-hand the difference this program has made in the lives of high school students from Arkansas. Their success as undergraduate students at Vandy is a testament to the positive influence of the program (congrats Cody on early admission to Vandy Med!). I am also forever grateful for the integral role that Aspirnaut has played in my life! As a young college student, Aspirnaut provided me with a path full of opportunity. It helped me define my interest in science, inspired me to excel academically, and provided phenomenal biomedical research experiences to prepare me for the next step in my education. Without Aspirnaut, there would be no high honors, no research awards, and no grad school at Yale. Thanks Dr. Hudson and thanks Aspirnaut for everything! -Wes Robertson

 

I will be forever thankful to this program. I have not only learned more than I could ever imagine but also confirmed my career goal as a medical professional. Horton.

 

As a college student who worked in Dr. Hudson's lab as a part of the summer program, I can say that this was truly one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had. I was surrounded by such inspirational mentors, learned fascinating science, and was able to spend time with a variety of awesome students. Thank you Dr. Hudson for your vision, and for giving so much to others. I can't wait to be back in the lab this summer! --Jillian Balser

 

This is a heartwarming story but shows what men and women who come from humble beginnings can do in changing the world for others. After all, making our world a better place than we found it is our reason for being.

 

I cannot begin to express the gratitude I have for Dr. Hudson. After participating in the Aspirnaut program, I feel much more prepared for the challenges I will face in college. It is because of the Aspirnaut Program that I have found my calling and have been given the drive to study Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology. Thank You Dr.Hudson! -Brennan Hicks

 

 

Its not only high school students that the Hudsons help. I participated in the summer Aspirnaut program as a undergraduate. It was the best experience I had in undergraduate research. I cannot fully express how thankful I was to be able to be a small part of this program. It was an enriching summer in so many ways. Thank you again. (Charli Bobbitt)

 

I am honored to be a cousin to Dr. Billy Hudson in more ways than one. First, I admire him for the courage he had to get his mother, sister, brother and himself away from the abusive father. Also because of the initiative he had to get an education and making a success of himself and his willingness to help today's young people to do the same. He and Julie are doing a great work in the programs for the youth. The "Gravel Road to Vanderbilt" mentioned in the article was just a dirt wagon road up until the Great Depression when the WPA upgraded it, making it suitable for modern day transportation. Times was so hard that the people planted their garden seed in the fresh dirt along the newly made road, thus giving it the name, Garden Seed Road. Yes, the area is rural Arkansas to the core and thanks to Billy & Julie for caring enough to help the young people, along this road and other roads like it, to a sussessful life. Jerry Lawrence

 

The work of this man is inspirational. It is point of pride to know someone who has worked with Billy. The work with kidney disease will save thousands of people from early deaths.

 

Awesome program! This country needs more of this kind of thinking and action. Thank you for providing a model and showing the importance of reaching out to give opportunity and guidance that makes a difference, one person at a time. Noelynn Oliver

 

It was Billy Hudson's course in Biochemistry at Oklahoma State University that inspired me to pursue graduate studies in Biochemistry. We've stayed in touch through the years and I'm proud to consider him both a friend and a mentor. Thank you for this article and for showing that great scientists can be great humanitarians. Bill Church

 

As an individual growing up and attending school from grade 1 through 12 with Billy Hudson in Grapevine, AR I am very proud of him and his work. The article is very interesting but does not give him any more credit for helping others than he deserves. I have always loved him like a brother and he will always remain my lifelong friend. Shelba Fielding Bradford

 

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