When he respectfully declined a full ride to a large Ohio state school, many of Isaiah Cochran’s high school friends thought he was crazy. But the aspiring neurosurgeon knew that God had something better in store for him – a life changing experience at Waynesburg University. After hearing of his acceptance into Waynesburg, a school he admired for rigorous academics and faithful service, and after receiving the supreme financial security offered by the Ohio Honors Scholarship, Cochran couldn’t decline the opportunity.
“When I was notified that I received the Ohio Honors Scholarship, I was in my high school eighth period Spanish Class. I remember crying when I heard the news,” Cochran said. “All I know is the scholarship has allowed me to do things that most college students could only dream of; it has brought me one step closer to achieving my ultimate dream of making a difference in this world. God has blessed me in way that I cannot comprehend.”
One of those blessings resulted in an esteemed internship with a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program, an initiative sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The junior pre-med student and star Waynesburg University tennis player from Akron, Ohio, was selected from a pool of thousands nationwide to participate in the Sackler/NSF REU: Integrated Research at the Frontiers of the Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences at Yale University's Raymond and Beverly Sackler Institute.
The Sackler/NSF REU program provides research training to students for 10 weeks under the mentorship of faculty members through research. In accordance with the program leadership team, students selected for the program choose a research project from three areas: mechanics of cellular processes, protein function and misfolding, or technology and method development for integrated research.
Cochran had the opportunity to participate in workshops and seminars ranging from laboratory methods to applying to graduate school. He also presented his work at a research symposium, which was held in conjunction with Yale's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program and the Center of Excellence for Materials Research and Innovation (CEMRI) Center for Research on Interface Structure & Phenomena (CRISP) REU program at Yale.
“I think Isaiah made great strides, both intellectually and technically. Intellectually, I think that putting together his presentation and then getting up and presenting in front of a crowd was a great accomplishment,” Cochran’s Yale internship supervisor, Dr. Megan King, said. “In the lab, I think he gained tremendous progress in working independently and competently at the bench.”
Challenged by the meticulous work and demanding time constraints at Yale, Cochran reminded himself of the many people rooting for him and of the invaluable research experience that he would gain. Though he was surrounded by new faces in an unfamiliar lab, Cochran felt right at home thanks to his laboratory and classroom training at Waynesburg University.
“It was very challenging. Some weeks I was in the lab for 60 hours a week trying to induce a double strand break into the yeast genome,” Cochran said. “I knew it would take a lot of hard work; what I did not expect was to be so well prepared for it. I can only thank the professors at Waynesburg for my strong science background.”
During the internship, Cochran worked in a lab focusing on DNA repair pathways. His summer project included inducing the double strand so that two distinct proteins could potentially ligate the DNA back together. As DNA repair becomes more successful, Cochran said it could usurp medicine as a way to cure diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.
“My favorite internship experience was learning and building a great foundation that I hope I can use as a clinician in neurology as well as a researcher in neurology,” Cochran said. “I also made some amazing connections. I think they will remember that a student from Waynesburg did a good job.”
With a passion for enhancing the medical world, Cochran initiated an American Medical Student Association (AMSA) chapter as a freshman at Waynesburg, but he didn’t stop there. Now a junior, he serves as a national Pre-Medical Region 1 Director for the AMSA, with responsibilities to oversee more than 105 university and college AMSA Chapters across 12 states.
“Medicine is not about self-glory; it is about doctoring, whether you have ‘Dr.’ in front of your name or not,” said Cochran. “There is a revolution coming in medicine and it is geared towards patient equality.”
He has relished the hands-on learning opportunities afforded to him at Waynesburg and has cited professors, coaches and even the President of Waynesburg University for personal help and support along the way.
“I have learned so much at Waynesburg. The professors give us a support system. They know you and they know what will make you successful,” Cochran said. “I have had this fire in me to change the world since I was in 8th grade. With the opportunities that I have been given, I know that it is just a matter of time before I do.”