Student Spotlight

Blake Beehler '16

Inspiring Alumni: A biology senior meets one of his inspirations to go to medical school, Dr. Stephen Ondra, MD '80. Dr. Ondra removed a spinal tumor from Blake's brother when Blake was 13.


What did you do today? Today I had an opportunity to speak with one of the men behind my motivation to go into a healthcare career, Dr. Steve Ondra. He had performed surgery on my older brother. I was 13 at the time, my brother was 16. He had suffered a soccer injury, kind of a fluke way of finding a tumor growing on his spine. We were referred to Dr. Ondra, who was the man for the job. He was the head of neurosurgery at Northwestern at the time, touted as one of the best neurosurgeons in the nation. He performed an 11-hour surgery on my brother. After a long recovery period, my brother went on to play four years of college sports, despite having a metal cage in his back instead of one of his vertebrae, and now he’s actually refereeing at the professional level. So it’s amazing to see his recovery because of the influences and the expertise that Dr. Ondra was able to provide. Ever since then I’ve been dedicated towards a healthcare career path.

Meeting Dr. Ondra was a very, very rewarding experience. He’s had a huge impact in so many different career paths. And he was able to stress and re-incentivize the importance of a liberal arts education, especially because he’s transferred from being an expert in neurosurgery, to working for President Obama and developing the Affordable Care Act, and now he redefining health insurance in his new role as Chief Medical Officer. I guess the main takeaway is, I don’t know where life’s going to take me, but as long as I continue to be excited about learning, it’s going to take me to some great places.

Why did you choose Illinois Wesleyan?  I was looking for the best college in the nation for biology. Illinois Wesleyan happens to be one of them, and it still continues to be. I also was pursuing an opportunity to play collegiate soccer following my brother’s footsteps.

And how was your college experience? Wesleyan’s been better than I could have imagined. I’ve had some fantastic friends, fantastic professors that I will continue to keep in contact with for a very long time. Wesleyan has set me up perfectly for medical school admissions. It's set me up perfectly for research jobs, if I need to take up something in the interim before acceptances come around. Overall a wonderful experience, and I don’t think I have could done everything I have done anywhere else.

Lydia Rudd '16
Lydia Rudd '16

Lydia Rudd '16

Choosing Illinois Wesleyan: I decided to come here because of the strength of the biology program and to run cross country.

Research opportunities: There is a lot of controversy about the health benefits of tea, so we wanted to better quantify the oxidants to get research data that was more concrete. I received the Criley Student Research Endowment to spend my summer optimizing protocols needed for quantitative characterization of antioxidant in tea and development methods to study the antioxidant activity.

Tea Party: It sounds crazy, but it took almost 30 days at the beginning of the summer to learn how to brew tea. Varying the amount of time it brewed; using different kinds of water, filtered vs. mineral, for example; how hot the water should be; and even differences in grinding, all had an impact on the data. So we spent a month just brewing tea and looking at how the data changed with different methods. Controlling for these different variables took a long time.

I gained a real understanding of how many little details go into scientific research and how it’s so important to get the right method. I gained experience with all these different instruments in the chemistry lab that I wouldn’t have been exposed to without this opportunity.

About that lab coat: My freshman year in general chemistry Dr. Melinda Bauer (assistant professor of chemistry) invited students over to her house to tie-dye lab coats. 

Jason Murphy '14

Undergraduate Research: Jason Murphy, biology major, compares eggshell structure of different bird species.

Along with fellow student Mark Swanson, Jason was lead author of a paper describing the research technique they developed in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, one of the top ornithological journals in the world (DOI 10.1642/AUK-14-158.1). The technique may help shed light on avian evolutionary history. Full story

Currently Jason is working as a lab technician the Neuro-Oncology Laboratory at the University of Chicago, where his research focuses on the use of nanomagnets for targeted cancer cell destruction.

Student Organizations

Tri-beta is a national honorary society for biology majors, with associate memberships open to non-majors. Several chapter meetings of the IWU Beta-Lambda chapter are held each semester. Regular events include a Christmas party and a spring banquet. Tri-beta also sponsors Red Cross Blood Drives on campus.

Click here to visit IWU's Beta Beta Beta webpage for more information and current events. Click here to visit the national Beta Beta Beta webpage.

For questions concerning activities of this organization, please contact Dr. Loni Walker.

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Sigma Xi

Sigma Xi is an international scientific research honor society. The purpose of Sigma Xi is the encouragement of "original investigation in science, pure and applied." As part of the society's mission, it offers competitive research grants to students.

The following mission statement was adopted by Sigma Xi's Board of Directors in 1989. "The missions of Sigma Xi are to honor scientific accomplishments, to encourage and to enhance the worldwide appreciation and support of original investigation in science and technology, and to foster worldwide a creative and dynamic interaction among science, technology, and society."

The local chapter includes members from both Illinois Wesleyan University and Illinois State University. The chapter sponsors numerous seminars throughout the academic year. Students involved in independent research may be nominated by faculty to become associate members and receive the society's publication, American Scientist.

Please contact Dr. David Bollivar for more information about the ISU/IWU local chapter.