Leadville native Kristen Wells misses her hometown and the Rocky Mountains. The Lake County High School graduate and former CMC student is now pursuing her Ph.D. in genetics at Stanford University School of Medicine. Though she yearns for views of the Collegiate Range, the allure of being on the cutting edge of medical research is more compelling.
“The coolest thing about Stanford is that all the top research is happening right here,” Kristen said. “We’re the first to implement many of the latest innovations in the science world, then a year later everyone hears about it and is talking about it in the public sector. It’s really fun to be a part of that.” For example, Kristen is using CRISPR, the revolutionary new gene editing technology, in her daily work. Her thesis, in layman’s terms, is about looking at gene expression that’s involved in preventing autoimmune disorders. Using CRISPR “really speeds up the research because we can manipulate an individual gene and see what it does,” she explained. The research may eventually lead to improved treatments for devastating autoimmune diseases like MS and lupus.
Wells credits her experience at Colorado Mountain College Leadville with setting her up for success in college. By the time she was a high school junior, she had maxed out on all the science and English courses available at her school. A counselor suggested that she take some college-level courses “up the hill” at CMC. So she did, taking Spanish with former Professor Mary Ebuna, and English with Associate Professor Jeff Runyon. “CMC was an incredible experience for me, especially Mr. Runyon who made English really fun. He pushed me, and made English exciting.” She learned early the rigors of college-level study, including increased homework and higher expectations from her instructors. “It made the transition to college much easier for me.”
Upon graduation from high school, Wells won a Boettcher scholarship and a full ride to Colorado College where she earned her bachelor’s in biology. She then was accepted into the doctoral program at Stanford where her education is completely paid for by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. “I use the writing skills I learned at CMC in my work now”, she said. “There’s a lot more creativity in science than you would expect, as writing and communication are a big part of the process. We write and publish papers, and orally present our work to our peers.”
For now, Kristen’s return to her home state will have to wait. She estimates it will take 4 more years of study to complete her doctorate. After that, she would like to continue advancing the study of genetics, wherever that pursuit takes her.