At 31, Wes Powers has already gained some valuable life experience. He’s a Navy veteran, a one-time music school student and studied at two community college. When he transferred to the College of Biological Sciences last fall as a junior majoring in microbiology, he brought plenty of insight to his latest venture: aspiring scientist and physician.
Powers, who plans to enter an M.D./Ph.D. program when he graduates, had medicine in mind when he joined the U.S. Navy in 2000, but became disillusioned by his field medic training and opted to become a boatswain’s mate. In the wake of 9/11, his ship was sent to the New York coast. He also served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, traveling from the Mediterranean to the North Arabian Gulf.
After leaving the Navy, Powers headed home to Minnesota, where he met his girlfriend Kassy Remmel, and the two briefly studied music at the McNally/Smith College of Music. But once again he found himself thinking about medicine. He trained to be an EMT at Anoka Technical College and took pre-med courses at Inver Hills Community College, where he focused on gaining admission to the University of Minnesota.
At CBS, Powers was impressed by the Foundations of Biology course, where the big assignment was to take a social problem “and figure out a way to fix it with genetics,” he says. “They just let you run with it. It was one of the best educational experiences I’ve ever had.”
Last summer, Powers and Remmel, who is also a CBS student, began a directed research project to explore using bacteriophages against antibiotic resistance. Bacteriophages are bacterial viruses that infect and kill disease-causing bacteria. The approach, first considered nearly 100 years ago, was dropped after antibiotics were developed. But with antibiotic resistance on the rise, it’s once again attracting attention. With support from faculty, they have been able to continue the work.
“I’ve learned so much more from this opportunity than I would from sitting in a classroom,” he says. “It’s tangible and I can apply it to my future.”
Ultimately, Powers would like to develop programs to reduce the impact of infectious diseases on populations with inadequate access to health care. He would also like to help get new therapies, like his bacteriophage therapy, to market more quickly. He says his nontraditional journey prepared him for leadership roles and gave him a strong sense of who he is and what he wants to become.
“The older you get the clearer your goals – and how to reach them – become,” he says. “All of your experiences help you reach that point.”