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Biology alumna gets into DVM/Ph.D. program

UMW News Bureau

Amanda Kortum

Amanda Kortum, a 2011 University of Montana Western biology graduate, will be attending the DVM/Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University beginning in the fall 2012 semester.

The 23-year old Ekalaka, Mont. native earned a Bachelor of Arts in Biology with a Cellular/Molecular emphasis from Montana Western.

Kortum applied to eight DVM/Ph.D. programs across the country as well as a stand-alone DVM veterinary program. She received invitations to interview at seven of the schools, interviewed at five schools and was eventually accepted into the Mississippi State University and University of Georgia DVM/Ph.D. programs as well as North Carolina State University (NCSU). Kortum was also accepted into the University of California Davis veterinary program.

Kortum said deciding on which university to attend was a hard decision.

“I weighed the pros and cons of them all, and in the end they came out equal,” Kortum explained. “North Carolina State felt right though. In terms of research, I think it will have a lot to offer me.”

While earning her bachelor’s degree, Kortum discovered a passion for research working extensively with UMW Associate Professor of Biology Michael Morrow, Ph.D. Kortum conducted research on Candida albicans, a pathogenic yeast found in the human body. Pathogenic yeasts are known to cause infections such as vaginitis and oral thrush, and in immunocompromised patients, the infections can be fatal. Kortum’s research focused on understanding the role of the Sec63 protein, which may allow scientists to develop drugs that could prevent pathogenesis.

In recognition of her Candida albicans research, Kortum was awarded a fellowship with the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) in 2010. The fellowship required 10 weeks of research and a presentation of her findings at the annual ASM General Meeting. In the summer of 2011, Morrow accompanied Kortum for her presentation at the meeting in New Orleans, La.

Morrow said he couldn’t be prouder of his former student.

“DVM/PhD programs are some of the most competitive programs out there,” Morrow said. “There are only a few schools across the country that offer dual degree programs and each of them only take two or three students. Being accepted into three of these programs is truly very impressive.”

“In the essay in the application process I specifically mentioned Montana Western and block scheduling because it was so unique and I thought it would set me apart,” Kortum said. “I also focused on how rigorous the block was and that I thought it prepared me for these programs.”

The DVM/Ph.D. is a dual degree program designed to allow students to earn both a DVM to practice as a veterinarian as well as a Ph.D. in seven years. Kortum will spend her first year working toward her Ph.D., finding a mentor and deciding on the topic of her doctorate research. Her next two years will be spent in veterinary school before she returns to graduate school to finish her Ph.D. and then finish her final two years of veterinary school. She will earn her Ph.D. in five years and her DVM in seven.

Kortum hopes to use the two degrees to combine her love of animals and research. The dual degree will also give her more career flexibility depending on funding and job availability.

“When I first came to Montana Western, I realized research was something I was good at,” Kortum said. “I think like a scientist and it was something very natural to me. I can’t imagine not doing research after doing research at Montana Western. I also love animals, and I can’t imagine not being a veterinarian.”

Kortum credits her experience at Montana Western in helping with her acceptance into the prestigious and highly competitive DVM/Ph.D. programs.

“In the essay in the application process I specifically mentioned Montana Western and block scheduling because it was so unique and I thought it would set me apart,” Kortum said. “I also focused on how rigorous the block was and that I thought it prepared me for these programs.”

Montana Western is the only public four-year university in the nation to offer a block scheduling program in which students take one class at a time for 18 days before moving on to the next course. Under this program, Experience One, students earn the same amount of credits over a semester as students do in traditional scheduling systems.

Kortum added that, aside from Experience One, the close working relationships and mentorships she developed with her professors helped to launch her education to the next level.

“I feel like because I attended Montana Western I have relationships that I might not have developed at other universities,” Kortum added. “Professors Michael Morrow and Michael Gilbert wrote different letters of recommendation for me for nine different schools, which is a lot of work. I just feel lucky to have had that experience and to have developed those relationships.”