Wendi Bacon ’12 has been awarded the Marshall Scholarship, one of the most prestigious awards available to American students. She is one of only 36 students in the country to receive the highly-coveted scholarship and she was ranked first among candidates in the New York region. The Marshall Scholarship provides full funding for two years of study at a university in the United Kingdom.
Bacon will use the Marshall Scholarship to pursue a Ph.D. in hematology at Cambridge University in England, under the guidance of Cambridge University Senior Research Associate Dr. Katrin Ottersbach. There, Bacon will work to develop a better model for infant acute leukemia and find targets for cancer therapy.
As the top candidate in the New York region, she has been additionally honored with the region’s named endowed scholarship, making her The Walter and Leonore Annenberg Marshall Scholar. The New York region includes schools such as Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, among others.
“Wendi has a command of her discipline that is truly extraordinary,” says Dr. Ray Raymond, chair of the New York Marshall Committee. “We were impressed by her creative and innovative leadership. She did the most extraordinary Marshall interview I have conducted in 10 years. Wendi answered our questions with eloquence and precision; you could see her remarkable ambassadorial qualities. It was a pleasure to meet such a brilliant, creative young person who is also so modest and selfless.”
“This is a well-deserved honor, one that affirms all of the hard work and dedication that Wendi has shown since arriving at HWS three years ago,” said President Mark D. Gearan. “In her many activities on campus and in the Geneva community where she created a Tae-Kwon-Do program at the Geneva Boys and Girls Club, I have been impressed with Wendi’s remarkable commitment to scholarship and her passion for making a difference in the lives of others.”
This will be Bacon’s second time doing research at Cambridge. This past summer, funded by the Charles H. Salisbury International Internship Stipend, Bacon served as a research intern in the Department of Hematology in the Cambridge Institute of Medical Research in Cambridge, England.
It was at Cambridge that Bacon developed the project that the Marshall Scholarship will allow her to further pursue. There, Bacon analyzed gene expression in the blood stem cell niche, as well as began developing her Ph.D project examining infant leukemia in mice. Her research as a Ph. D. candidate will entail the study of cells and cell mutations, seeking those responsible for infant leukemia, a disease the current mouse model fails to accurately recapitulate.
Although Bacon entered her undergraduate career with her sights set on becoming an orthopedic surgeon, she has found an unparalleled passion in research and the study of blood stem cells. “There’s so much hope in lab science,” explains Bacon. “As a doctor treating cancer, there are only about five or six drugs that you can prescribe – and then that’s it. In research, you are starting from the cells, from the disease itself. You figure out what is actually going on, what is going wrong with the model – and potentially fix it.”
Bacon first discovered her interest in blood cancers during a summer internship at the Duke Bone Marrow Transplant Clinic where she researched the fatal blood cancer myeloma with Hobart alumnus Dr. David Rizzieri ’87 and his colleague Dr. Cristina Gasparetto. “I went through hundreds of patient charts; I was watching these patients through ten years of their lives,” says Bacon, who read nearly every case about the rapid deterioration of each patient, inevitably ending in death. “Seeing that over and over again – it’s impossible not to be changed.”
At Duke, Bacon was part of the team that found a drug that will improve the lives of patients suffering from multiple myeloma, an incurable bone cancer. In December, she will present these findings at the American Society for Hematology conference in San Diego.
Bacon credits Hobart and William Smith with nurturing her interests and providing her with the opportunities that have led to receiving the Marshall. “At Hobart and William Smith, if you want to pursue something, there are people willing to hear you and to help you,” explains Bacon. “I don’t know how it works at the big universities, but what I do know is, the experiences I had at Hobart and William Smith got me three papers, two presentations and an abstract award from the American Study of Hematology,” she says, referencing the work she did with Rizzieri as well as Professor of Chemistry Walter Bowyer, her research adviser. “That’s all from my relationships with my professors who then connected me to an alum. When I got to the Marshall interview, I was able to talk about how excited I am about everything at HWS; about how I can go into a professor’s office with a paper and say, ‘what on earth is going on?’ There is so much opportunity and so many people who care. The experiences I have had here have been phenomenal. I don’t think I could have had them anywhere else.”
In her journey to the Marshall, which included countless hours spent on fellowship applications, Bacon says she had the support of faculty and staff members from numerous departments including biology, chemistry, Spanish and political science as well as the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Salisbury Center for Career Services and Professional Development, the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, the Centennial Center for Leadership, the Deans’ Offices and the Office of the President.
“Wendi is an incredibly smart and motivated student,” says Bowyer. “She is easily among the top students I have known in the past 22 years of teaching at HWS. On top of that, she is probably the most creative student I have worked with ever. She has the intelligence, energy, creativity and experience to succeed at whatever she undertakes.”
A double major in biochemistry and Spanish, Bacon is the recipient of the Blackwell Medical Scholarship, which has provided her a full, four-year tuition scholarship to attend William Smith and a reserved seat at SUNY Update Medical University College of Medicine. She is currently working on two honors projects, the first on myeloma cell biology and the second on linguistic anomalies in dubbed films. She also works as a teaching fellow in the biology and Spanish departments. Bacon created and instructs Tae-Kwon-Do classes for children in the Geneva Boys and Girls Club, and has coordinated Alternative Spring Break trips to Nicaragua.
“At Hobart and William Smith, I’m not just a brain in the lab; I’m a whole person,” explains Bacon. “Yes, I have a tie-dye T-shirt that says ‘Organic Chemist,’ but on the other side of campus, I’m known as ‘Yolanda,’ my Spanish name. Take a few steps off campus, and I’m known as ‘Instructor Wendi.’ As students, we are valued for our achievements in the classroom and encouraged to take our research to the next level. But we’re also valued for who we are and what we can do outside of the classroom.”
Since 1953, Marshall Scholarships have been awarded to American students who show high levels of ability and exemplary scholarly records. Other Marshall Scholars include Stephen Breyer, associate justice of the U. S. Supreme Court; Thomas Friedman, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the New York Times; Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn; Ray Dolby, the inventor of Dolby Sound and chair of Dolby Laboratories; Nannerl Keohane, the former president of Duke University; Douglas Melton, professor and chair of Harvard University’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology; Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the Washington Post; and Roger Tsien, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry.