Kyle Willingham ('09) | Biology

kyle willingham

Biology major
from Abilene, Texas

Kyle Willingham grew up watching his grandfather practice medicine. He played with his grandfather's medical instruments when he came over to visit and spent time listening to his grandfather's stories. When they went hunting together, his grandfather would help him gut the deer and then would identify the major organs for him.

You can get a good education anywhere - what I really liked here was the integrating of faith and biology. 

When Kyle came into high school, he discovered that he was good at science. He did well in biology classes and competed in UIL science. There was never a moment when he suddenly decided to major in biology or knew that he wanted to practice medicine. He simply had spent his entire life watching respected role models practice medicine, he recalled.

At ACU, Kyle's interest was heightened as he took research trips with faculty in the biology department.

One expedition with biology professor Dr. Tom Lee involved collecting pocket mice as specimens for research. He and the professor went to the Del Rio area of Texas, where they caught the mice in steel traps, tagged them and then released them. Kyle particularly enjoyed the hands-on feel of being in the field.

"It was a good experience," he said. 

Hands-on research

Another trip with Dr. Tom Pirtle involved traveling to Washington to conduct neurophysiology research on Clione limacina, commonly called "sea angels." These small mollusks, which are similar to sea slugs and inhabit the waters off the coast of Washington, use their wing-like parapodia to produce an up-and-down motion. Kyle helped his professor catch the mollusks, dissect them and attach intracellular electrodes to the nerve cells in order to record action in the "wings."

The second phase of the experiment involved applying a drug that blocks the hyperpolarization-activated cation current (Ih) channels, to the mollusks' nerve cells to see how the drug affected locomotion rhythm. The team discovered that the drug slowed down the beating rhythm of the "wings," which shows that the Ih channels play an important role in maintaining the basic swim rhythm, Kyle explained. They later presented this research at a San Antonio conference, where they received Best Student Poster out of their category.

At ACU, Kyle has also been a teacher's assistant for several labs, including general biology I and II. He viewed the lab work not as drudgery, but as another opportunity to observe experiments he'd already conducted. His position as a teacher's assistant was also a chance to help younger students learn the basic mechanics of their discipline.

Why ACU?

Through research trips, assisting in labs and working closely with professors, Kyle has a definite opinion about the value of the ACU community. He primarily chose ACU because it was private, Christian and small.  "I really liked that it was a smaller college," he said.

He also enjoyed the ability to have close, meaningful relationships with his professors and other students. The professors "really helped me a lot," he said. "You can see them as role models, too. You learn about more than just the classroom."  

The blend of faith and education offered at ACU appealed to him as well. "You can get a good education anywhere - what I really liked here was the integrating of faith and biology," he said.

Kyle's plan for the future involves getting accepted to medical school and possibly going into general practice. He has applied to schools all over Texas and received interviews at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at Lubbock and El Paso and the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at Dallas.

His mission, however, is simple: "mainly, just to be the best we can with what we're presented with, providing the care that we can and providing it well - showing God’s love," he said.

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