Megan Hodges

ASU medical microbiology graduate first in family to attend college

By

Sandra Leander

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates

Megan Hodges grew up on her family’s small-town ranch in the mountains outside of San Diego. She thrived in her rural lifestyle — growing a vegetable garden and raising cows, pigs, horses, chickens and other animals. She’s had the same six friends since kindergarten.

But Hodges had her sights set on bigger places and different things. After saving her money and doing enough research to know that Arizona State University would be a good fit, she left home to spend the next four years in the big city.

She is the first in her family go to college. While it was difficult to leave her family behind in Jamul, California, she took a leap of faith and headed to Arizona.

“Being so far from my family was extremely difficult since we are so close, growing up in a small, tight-knit community,” Hodges said. “I forced myself out of my comfort zone and wanted to find people with similar interests. I joined the American Sign Language Club and tried to find a research lab. I immersed myself and made a little niche for myself here at ASU. Changing from a small town to a large city, by my standards, and to a large campus was quite a challenge. However, the transition was easier than I thought, due to ASU’s community feel.”

Hodges started college with a deep interest in the medical field following personal illness and the deaths of family members due to disease. That led to trying her hand at research to see whether she liked it and was surprised to find out — she was hooked. She's graduating with a Bachelor of Science in medical microbiology from the School of Life Sciences.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I was a pre-med major since I knew I wanted to help people who were sick. However, as I was taking classes, I volunteered in a microbiology lab to see if I liked research. I found out I loved being in the lab, running experiments and discovering new things! That’s when I knew I had to be in a lab and study microbiology and infectious diseases! 

My grandfather had a brain tumor and unfortunately passed away, after not waking up from the anesthetic from surgery. My grandmother passed away from metastatic breast cancer before I was born. After seeing my grandfather suffer and seeing how his death affected my mother and myself, I wanted to save others from having to deal with similar situations.

I myself had chronic bronchitis as well as ear infections as a child and never understood why I always got sick, but I always wanted to understand it more. Since I was sick often, I was limited in what activates I could participate in. I think both of these events had a large impact on my interest in the medical research field. By being a research scientist, I can be in the forefront of ground-breaking medical discoveries that will help others. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I was surprised how communal ASU felt. While it’s a large university, I felt connected to the people and community through the events, special speakers and social aspects that the School of Life Science(s) had. I have met so many amazing people and have learned so much through all the events that ASU has!

I was also surprised by the amazing people I met through the American Sign Language club at ASU. I was nervous at first to approach new people in the club, however, I wanted to share my passion for sign language and deaf culture. I now have life-long friends and did not expect that to happen through a club that I was hesitant to join.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because I heard about the amazing research facilities that they have as well as a special department of research dedicated to microbiology and pathogens. I also visited during the undergraduate research symposium and got to see all the amazing research being done at ASU. I knew I had to come here. Plus, the beautiful campus and surrounding area of Tempe didn’t hurt either!

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I think my principal investigator Dr. Shelley Haydel taught me perseverance and determination in the field of microbiology research. I had a little experience in a lab before transferring to ASU — I had no idea what it actually takes.

It takes a lot of determination, patience as well as passion. Typically experiments do not go as planned and you must be able to adapt and change your strategy. This is where the determination and patience come in. It takes a strong passion to continently investigate and handle all the challenges that arise during experimentation and research.

Dr. Haydel, along with the other members of the lab, exposed me to life in the lab and the perseverance needed to be a great researcher and student. She is a great role model/mentor to have! I also learned a lot from my advisor, Ivy Esquibel. She helped me learn the “ins and outs” of a large university as well as how to get into a lab.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Stick with it. I know it seems hard and that the stress will never end but I promise, if you stick with your dreams you will achieve all that you want to. As my mom always tells me, “You get out what you put in.” If you want a great career and enjoy what you do, you must put in the work first.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I enjoyed Noble Library. I had many study groups there as well as life contemplating sessions. The front lawn was also a great place to relax and take time to myself when I needed it!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on attending graduate school for my PhD in microbiology or infectious diseases. I hope to continue to pursue my passion for research and help those affected by infectious diseases. I hope to work in the government or private sector of research working on infectious diseases and vaccines, or biowarfare and biowarfare-preventative measures! The world of microorganisms is vast and there is so much to learn.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: That’s a hard one. The Pacific Trash pit, and other ocean trash pits. The Pacific Ocean garbage pit it the largest accumulation if ocean plastic in the world and it is only harming the ocean and by a result harming the world.

Also, a successful vaccine for HIV made available to everyone! To end the HIV pandemic that is plaguing the world. HIV affects so many people around the world and it is a growing concern.

Q: What’s something you are most proud of during your time at ASU?

A: I am proud of my accomplishments. I am the first in my family to go to university. Prior to university, I have never lived away from my family. I was able to accomplish all my goals I set out for myself, such as getting into a research lab right away, getting my degree, increasing my GPA, and most importantly, I think I have made my family proud.

I am so grateful for the opportunities that ASU and my family have given me. I feel ready to take on the world! ASU was exactly what I needed in a university, it helped me achieve my goals and further my passions.