December 2011

Five years of giving rural students second chances

 
While many scientists immediately see the value of helping with K–12 STEM education, Hudson acknowledges that some say that they have pressures of their own and feel they can’t spare the time. Hudson says all that is required of a scientist is to devote an hour once in a while to show up for a videoconference with a lesson prepared for grade-school children. “We have a responsibility for educating our citizens in science,” urges Hudson. “You’re not going to turn all these teachers out there into STEM experts. You’re not going to turn the scientists into K–12 teachers. But as a partnership? It’s a winning strategy.”

Path out of poverty 

feature_billy_hudson_mentoring 
High school student Jonathan Stroud is mentored by Mohamed Rafi, Billy Hudson’s research assistant, during a summer internship. Stroud’s program mentor was Roberto Vanacore, and his research project was on Goodpasture’s syndrome.

 

In addition to the bus and the videoconferenced science lessons, the initiative has a third program that involves six-week summer internships for high school students doing  fundamental research in various Vanderbilt laboratories. “They come from rural communities, earn a stipend, and are provided their room and board,” explains Hudson. “We challenge them to help advance our scientific objectives.”

The students are immersed in the daily pace of research and return to high school in the fall with new experiences that inspire them to work harder in school, says Hudson. The students help the teachers organize the videoconferenced science classes and earn an hourly wage while doing so.

Out of the 36 high school students who have gone through Aspirnaut internships, 26 have finished high school, and 25 of those are now in college. (The math-loving boy Hudson met on the school bus in 2005 participated in some of the Aspirnaut programs and now is in college.)

The Hudsons visualize the Aspirnaut Initiative as a pipeline. Students first get on the school bus and start learning about science, medicine, engineering and mathematics. In elementary and middle school, they get exposed to the videoconferenced labs. Then in high school, they get hands-on experience in research laboratories and find mentors to guide them to college.

The Hudsons’ biggest wish for the initiative is for it to serve as a model for other major research universities, according to Julie Hudson. “While Vanderbilt has an enormous bandwidth, we certainly couldn’t, nor do we wish to be, the end-provider for the entire nation. We have demonstrated that the model is replicable in other rural states.”

Because of the intense mentoring that goes on with the summer interns, the Hudsons get to know the teenagers intimately. “Almost every one of these students has an incredible life story,” she says. One student was born in prison and handed off to his grandmother “in a Christmas stocking” when he was three-weeks old, recounts Hudson. The boy’s grandmother became his legal guardian. Hudson says, “They lived on almost no money for many years because all they had was her pension. That was $9,000 a year.”

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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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