The words roll off Hannah Newsome’s tongue with ease — “Characterizing the Effects of the Delta32 Mutation on CCR5 Expression and HIV Infectability.” It’s the title of the presentation the Lorain County Community College Early College High School (ECHS) student gave in May 2018 at John Carroll University at a conference devoted to microscopic research.
Newsome is one of eight LCCC ECHS students involved in researching the genetics behind HIV, with the goal of finding a cure. The senior was interested in nursing until she took an LCCC class in microbiology and changed course.
“It was everything I loved and changed my perspective on things when I realized I could major in it,” says Newsome.
As she started learning about medical treatment and research and how certain drugs and treatments were developed, she realized that instead of becoming a nurse to help people, she wanted to take a broader approach through research.
“I’m fascinated with genetics and microorganisms, and with understanding disease processes, such as why you get a fever when you have an infection. It’s a lot of hands-on technique, which I like, and you’ll always find us looking over a petri dish or taking a pipehead and filling gel with genetic information.”
She says Dr. Harry Kestler, professor of microbiology in the Division of Science and Mathematics at LCCC, has been a huge influence. She first met Kestler in the LCCC lab where he and his students were conducting research into the genetics behind HIV.
“It absolutely blew me away,” she says of the HIV research program, now in its ninth year. “He changed my path in a lot of ways and said I could be whatever I wanted to be.”
Ahead of the curve
As part of the HIV research program, Newsome attends conferences and presents research to her more experienced peers. At a 2018 microbiology conference in Vancouver, she helped present HIV-related research projects; the results were printed in the April 2018 edition of Science magazine.
Newsome’s success with her research led to a position as a supplemental instructor and teaching assistant in Kestler’s general microbiology course, where she covers lecture materials with students and can teach the class. She is the youngest person to ever hold that position.
“I made her a supplemental instructor, and she’s done a heck of a job,” Kestler says. “She’s very smart and good with people. She’s brilliant and resourceful. She’s had a hard life, and because of that, she’s become self-sufficient and very creative. If students don’t have someone showing them the way, they have to make their own way.”
Persevering, inside and outside the classroom
Newsome’s innovation and intelligence extend outside the classroom, as well. She does her own car maintenance and has built houses with Habitat for Humanity. And for several years, she traveled with her father to Kentucky a few weekends a month to help her brother build his house — experiences she relates to her research.
“When you’re doing research and you can’t seem to get anything to work right, you have to persevere,” says Newsome. “It’s the same thing when you’re working on a section of a house and realize you didn’t do it the way you should have. You need to persevere.”
Newsome will graduate in May with a high school diploma and an associate of science degree, making her the first in her family to earn a college degree. She’s considering pursuing an Emergency Medical Technician certification and plans to major in microbiology at a four-year college before pursuing a master’s degree, and possibly a Ph.D., on her way to becoming a researcher studying infectious diseases.
And she’s grateful for the opportunities afforded to her by LCCC that have allowed to her chart her path and get a head start on her education.
“It’s a good research opportunity, and I enjoy doing it,” she says. “The Early College High School program has taken one to two years off of earning a bachelor’s degree since LCCC credits, including research credits, transfer to just about all of the colleges I’ve applied to.”
She encourages other students with an interest in science to pursue research.
“It’s not an opportunity a lot of other kids get,” says Newsome. “If every high school student got the chance to do research, we would have a lot of great advancement in science. A lot of kids could fall in love with research and contribute to the scientific community if given the chance.”