December 2011

Five years of giving rural students second chances

Billy and Julie Hudson founded the Aspirnaut Initiative.

From a young age, the boy was very motivated to change his circumstances. He excelled in school and read a lot. In high school, he taught himself the curricula of a number of Advanced Placement courses and sat for the exams. He passed 11 AP courses eligible for college credit with flying colors. He applied to the Aspirnaut summer intern program between his junior and senior years of high school and had “an outstanding summer of research,” says Hudson. He maintained ties with Aspirnaut during his senior year of high school by helping with the bus and videoconference programs in his community. “He served as a junior mentor to the students,” she says. “He’s now a sophomore at Vanderbilt and has an excellent academic record. He’s going to apply for early decision to medical school” and is hoping to earn an M.D./Ph.D.

Students like this young man are the ones Billy Hudson always looks out for to introduce to the Aspirnaut Initiative, mindful that he broke out of the circle of poverty and abuse at the age of 16. “We show them education is a way of breaking free of difficult situations,” he states. “That’s the path I know out of poverty and out of abuse. It’s what education can do, but it can’t happen unless an opportunity passes your way.”

See past coverage of this topic in ASBMB Today.

Raj_MukhopadhyayRajendrani Mukhopadhyay ( is the senior science writer for ASBMB Today and technical editor for JBC.

I have been with the Aspirnaut Program since June 2009. At that time, I was at a point of intermission. I had been admitted to Vanderbilt University as a doctoral student and was in almost in my third year of study. There were many factors occurring that were making me think about stepping away, including the fact that I was a mother of four. During this time, a good friend of mine introduced me to Billy and mentioned that he too was interested in my passion of making science learning more accessible. I met with Billy and Julie and fell in love with the program. I became involved with the program. That was one of the best decisions of my life and I have been involved ever since with assisting with the summer science program, skyping lessons to Arkansas, and serving as a mentor to Aspirnaut students within the school year. While in this program, I spoke with Billy on many occasions and realized the importance of sticking to my goal of attaining my PhD at Vanderbilt. He mentored me and gave me an opportunity to step back into benchwork with invaluable mentorship. It would make a difference in so many lives, including my own. I would be able to mentor more students that are under-represented in science and use my story as an inspiration of continuing your goal in the face of adversity. Billy and Julie’s passion of science exposure to the underserved runs very deep and their love, inspiration, and resources for these students runs deeper. I am proud to call myself an Aspirnaut because the program has been there in so many ways for me, giving me an opportunity to build my skills and resume, and allowing me to play many roles within the program that showcase me and my love for equitable, legitimate exposure of minorities to the world of science. I am an African American mother of four who recently graduated from Vanderbilt with an Interdisciplinary Degree in Biomedical Sciences and Science Education and am ready to create ways to make scientific concepts and the thought of it equally enticing to students of all backgrounds!!
—Isi Ero-Tolliver, Ph.D.

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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 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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