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Student Earns Recognition for Chemistry Presentation

by Web on December 5, 2017

DJ Hawkins conducts research at Millsaps College that goes hand-in-hand with his career plans.

Hawkins, who aspires to become a practicing gastroenterologist who studies colon cancer, recently won recognition for research he conducts with a Millsaps professor.

He was honored at the 2017 annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Phoenix for an outstanding chemistry presentation.

At the conference, Hawkins spoke about his work with Dr. Wolfgang Kramer, professor of chemistry at Millsaps, to synthesize and purify the chemical compound maleimide with the chemotherapeutic drug doxorubicin. Their research focuses on finding a safer delivery of the drug.

"Since I am considering M.D./Ph.D. programs with emphasis on research in cancer biology, I believe that the research I do in Dr. Kramer's lab goes hand and hand with the research I could be doing in the future," he said. "I wish to not only treat various cancers of the digestive tract, but to research ways of curing and preventing them."

A junior majoring in biochemistry who is a Ford teaching fellow in organic chemistry and secretary of the Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society, Hawkins credits Dr. Tim Ward, associate dean of sciences, with convincing him that Millsaps was the college he should choose. "He explained the numerous opportunities that Millsaps offers for pre-medical students," he said.

Through the Millsaps Medical Mentoring Program, Hawkins met his mentor, Dr. Vonda Reeves-Darby, a Millsaps graduate and practicing gastroenterologist. "The mentor-mentee relationship we have formed has opened my eyes to many aspects of the medical field and helped solidify my love for wanting to become a doctor," he said.

Hawkins, who grew up in the Mississippi Delta town of Clarksdale, said he wanted to attend a small, liberal arts college because he knew it would be easy to form personal relationships with professors.

"I am grateful for being taught by some of the best professors here at Millsaps," he said. "Among my favorites is Dr. Sarah Lea Anglin, professor of biology. Dr. Anglin was my academic advisor coming into my freshman year, and I've taken intro to cellular biology and genetics with her.

"Throughout my studies here at Millsaps, I have found Dr. Anglin to be available as a listening ear, never judging and offering great advice. Dr. Anglin has encouraged me to live a healthier lifestyle, giving tips for healthy eating and exercise. She has also sparked my interest in cycling. Dr. Anglin opens her office for students to stop by and chat over a warm cup of tea. She is genuinely concerned about the success of her students, not just academically."

Hawkins said he appreciates classes that have a community engagement component and recalls a Ventures class taught by Dr. Lola Williamson, associate professor of religious studies, which posed the question: "Is Peace Possible?"

"Like many of the classes at Millsaps, that class included a community engagement component that allowed students to take the knowledge learned in class and apply it to a community outside Millsaps," he said. "In that class, my group members and I researched possible ways to rehabilitate prisoners to ensure their success in society once they return.

"As part of the community engagement, we visited a juvenile center in Jackson. We were there to hear the stories of some of the detainees and to share our stories and some advice. This experience was touching and transformative because me being a biochemistry major, I most likely would have never visited a juvenile center while in college."

Vice-chair of the Millsaps Honor Council and a residence hall director, Hawkins said he's learned to balance his social and academic life but admits that is a skill to master.

"Since hanging out with friends is a good way of relieving stress, hanging out too much sometimes get in the way of my studies," he said. "Sometimes I need to be distracted from school work, so choosing to hang out with friends for an hour over studying isn't a bad thing."