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Title: Assistant Professor
Best Office Artifact: Futuristic space postcards
Stay curious, creative, and collaborative. That’s the advice Carthage biology Professor Andrea Henle shares with the students in her lab. As an immunologist, Prof. Henle is conducting research on uveal melanoma cells in hopes of discovering new methods of treatment. She strives to provide inspiration and encouragement to her students as they develop their own research experiences and interests.
Professor Andrea Henle’s passion for education and science lead her from an undergraduate teaching assistant position to postdoctoral studies at the Mayo Clinic, to teaching at Harvard and in Singapore before arriving at Carthage. She brings her many research experiences and specialty in immunology to Carthage students eager to follow in her footsteps.
We spoke to Prof. Henle about her hopes and advice for Carthage students, hobbies, and favorite organism to work with.
How did you become interested in biology?
“My interest in biology came about due to an interest in medicine. I’ve always been curious about diseases and treatments. During my undergraduate years, I became very intrigued by immunology. I found it fascinating how there are cells in our body that can sense when something is wrong and can then move to the exact location of the problem to eliminate the issue. The amount of molecular and cellular biology that is working together to allow an immune response to happen is quite amazing.”
What was your journey to becoming a professor at Carthage like? Why did you choose Carthage?
“I went to a small undergraduate liberal arts college much like Carthage - the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota. I was fairly quiet and reserved as a student. One of the most formative experiences during my undergraduate years was my on-campus job as a teaching assistant in the introductory biology labs. For three years I helped lead my fellow students through biology labs. I knew after just one year of that job that I wanted to teach in a similar environment for my career. I completed my Ph.D. in biomedical sciences-immunology at the Mayo Clinic and a postdoctoral fellowship in cancer biology at MIT. Along the way, I gained more experience teaching at Carleton College, Harvard, Bard College, and even in Singapore. I chose Carthage for a myriad of reasons but mostly because it felt like home and is somewhere where I could have an impact on the lives of students. The year I was hired also coincided with the completion of the David Straz Center and I knew I would be able to help undergraduate students in a meaningful way through teaching and research in this new building.”
Could you talk a little about your research with cancer cells and what you hope to achieve or discover? How does it pertain to immunology?
“My lab studies uveal melanoma which is a cancer that arises from pigmented cells in the eye. We are working to understand how genes that are mutated in pigmented cells cause the cells to become cancerous. How do these genes alter the cells and how might we stop or slow down that process? As an immunologist, I’m interested in finding out how we can get our immune system to target the pigmented cancer cells. The cancer cells look a lot like our normal cells, but perhaps we can find something that is different about them and train the immune system to recognize that difference and then eliminate the tumor.”
What is your favorite organism to work with and why?
“Zebrafish, they are easy to handle, are 70% similar to humans, and they don’t smell like mice or rats!”
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“Teaching is everything to me! There is no better reward than passing on knowledge to the next generation and helping students develop habits to be lifelong learners.”
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What do you hope students take away from your classes? What does teaching mean to you?
“I want my students to be curious about the small things in life - cells and molecules. I also want them to be able to interpret scientific studies and data so that when they are presented with a news story, graph, or table they know how to interpret it and make an informed decision. Teaching is everything to me! There is no better reward than passing on knowledge to the next generation and helping students develop habits to be lifelong learners.”
How have you pushed students beyond their comfort zones?
“I ask a lot of my students, particularly in my writing-intensive Cell Biology course. I encourage students to discuss biology together in the lab and classroom and to provide frequent writing feedback to their peers. Sometimes students find this uncomfortable and they would rather work independently, but I remind them that science is collaborative. Any job that they pursue, especially in the medical and scientific fields, is going to involve working on a team at some point.”
What are some hobbies or interests you have that may be surprising to students?
“I love downhill skiing. I don’t get to do a lot of it in Wisconsin, but an ideal winter vacation to me would be skiing in Colorado. I also like sewing and have in the past sewn many things - mostly skirts, dresses, and home decor.”
Any favorite moments or memories from your time at Carthage so far?
“I would say some of my most memorable experiences have happened on my J-term course in Taiwan and Singapore. I enjoy watching my students go outside of their comfort zone to try new foods (including super hot and spicy food), meet new people, and immerse themselves in new cultures. A few summers ago I also had the opportunity to travel with one of my students and a colleague to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. It was amazing to visit this campus where they develop technology to launch rockets, test the Mars rovers, and build spacecraft. It was also very meaningful to process samples from the International Space Station for our research project.”
What advice do you have for new or prospective biology students? Anything you wish you would have known as an undergrad?
“Get to know your professors. Find one that you click with and have them be your mentor. As I mentioned before I was very quiet when I was an undergraduate. I didn’t reach out to my professors too often and was intimidated by office hours. There’s no reason to be scared! Your professors are a wealth of knowledge and can help you prepare for and find internships and jobs, and give advice on graduate or professional programs. All this in addition to guiding you through course material you might be struggling with. Come prepared to a meeting or office hours with a professor with a list of questions or topics you want to discuss. We are here to help.”
— Interview by Madeline Paakkonen ’21