Entomology might seem like an unlikely research area for an undergrad whose goal is medical school. But biology major Erik Sanson has clocked in many hours of lab time studying deer ticks—more specifically,Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacteria transported by deer ticks—because of its role in causing Lyme disease.
“Entomology sparked my interest as a young undergraduate because it deals with public health issues throughout the state of Wisconsin,” says Sanson, who works in the lab of entomology professor Susan Paskewitz.
His research on genotypes of Borrelia burgdorferi is a good example, he says. “Lyme disease is prevalent in the Midwest, and analyzing possible new strains of the disease can help alert physicians in the area. This would allow them to establish better treatment plans and prevention for their patients.”
Sanson’s been conducting research in medical entomology since his freshman year under the auspices of the Undergraduate Research Scholars (URS) program, which offers research positions to freshmen and sophomores from historically underrepresented groups on campus. Sanson now serves as a URS Fellow, a position in which he mentors a group of URS underclassmen in their projects.
That’s not his only service gig. He’s president of the CALS Student Association, a CALS Student Ambassador, and a mentor with the PEOPLE Program, offering support and guidance to a dozen freshmen throughout the year. Off campus, he has provided in-home patient care as a Certified Nursing Assistant and a Certified Phlebotomy Technician, and he has volunteered at Meriter and William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans hospitals.
Sanson hopes to continue that path of service as a physician.
“I’d like to pursue a career relating to research or public health in urban areas,” he says. “For research, I’m interested in pursuing an MD–Ph.D. dual degree, where I can focus on infectious diseases relating to human illnesses. If I choose the public health route, I’d like to focus on urban areas, working to reduce health disparities and promote health equity to all communities.”
This story was originally published in the spring 2016 issue of Grow magazine.