You can tell from the way Kai Cowger ’13 (Elgin, S.C.) spent his summer that he balances a lot of passions in life. Along with volunteering as a tutor and training for a marathon, he sought out an experience that would combine his interests in public health and lab research. He found just that in a summer internship at Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Cowger, who is adding a global health concentration to his biology and anthropology majors, knows that someday he’d like to work in global public health, but he wasn’t sure whether public health, medical school, or lab research would be his first step after college. His interest in public health was sparked after taking Ron Barrett’s Medical Anthropology class; he realizes that an interdisciplinary approach to his future work is crucial.
“To truly make a difference in public health as a biologist, you have to look beyond the lab bench and understand how developments in the lab will affect society as a whole,” Cowger says. “It’s critical to retain my knowledge of biology and chemistry, while also understanding public policy, sociology, and interacting with people.”
Luckily, he found a summer experience that perfectly matched his approach. Cowger’s internship was split between doing public health research and working as a clinical technologist in the university’s Human Cancer Genetics lab. For his public health research, he worked on health disparities in cervical cancer by developing interventions to increase awareness in low-income communities. Because his research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Cowger presented the findings at an NIH conference in Bethesda, Md.
In his free time over the summer in Columbus, Cowger volunteered as a math and science teacher with Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Neighborhood House Community Center. He also created the student organization Macalester Global Health and AIDS Coalition to focus on global health disparities. Finally, he worked with Partners in Health on epidemiological research related to Haiti's cholera outbreak.
That experience solidified his interest in pursuing a career in emerging infectious diseases.
When it comes to most of his life's passions, Cowger is admittedly a beginner. But one project is crossed off his list: On October 2 he successfully crossed the finish line of the Twin Cities Marathon.