Student view:

Bradley Disbrow: Unfamiliar Ground

Dec. 2, 2015

Bradley Disbrow is a senior majoring in microbiology and international relations from Wheaton, Illinois and a College of Natural Science Dean’s Research Scholar.

Taking a seat at the first meeting of my first class at Michigan State University felt like stepping into a foreign land.

Perhaps that’s because that first meeting was held in a classroom in the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy, in a building likely older than MSU itself.

From my Freshman Seminar Abroad, focused on comparing American and European models of healthcare to the present day, and in all my experiences along the way, my Spartan story has a unitary thread that connects it all together: a challenge to place oneself on unfamiliar ground and to gain new perspectives on familiar issues.

My time at MSU has been dotted with ventures outside of my previously established boundaries. Interested in both international politics and medicine, I decided to tackle a combo of majors that draws confused glances and raised eyebrows even today: international relations and microbiology. The challenge laid not in doing two different things that I enjoyed, but in finding areas in which they could meaningfully overlap.

The answer to that question came in a life-altering medical mission to Honduras, where I joined my peers in assisting local physicians who provided medical care to rural Hondurans, who have little access to healthcare otherwise. Observing the line of anxious, weary faces extending far along the chain-link fence that borders the compound along the sweltering dirt road, I saw firsthand how something that I might have taken for granted in America – seeing a doctor – is a depressingly uncommon occurrence not just in Honduras but in many parts of our world. Unfamiliar ground? Check. New perspective? Double check.

Since then, I’ve found the time and space in my classes to commit serious thought to health issues in the developing world, including understanding American aid to combat HIV/AIDS in Kenya and the implications of the World Health Organization’s slow response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Through searching out unfamiliar experiences, and learning about health both from scientific and societal perspectives, I have discovered not only an academic interest, but a passion and moral purpose: to improve the lives of those who have limited access to health care around the world.

Guiding me along the path to greater scientific understanding was another venture into a new world: that of plant biology. Beginning from an offer of a summer research experience from my cell biology professor, I’ve spent over two years researching the ability of algae to produce lipids that can be converted into biofuels. Though I don’t plan to study plants in medical school, the lessons I’ve learned from my research experience have broad uses. I have learned how to read scientific literature, appraise it critically, and design experiments to test the hypotheses that I, or others generate. More importantly, I have learned (and am still learning) about the importance of persistence, perseverance, collaboration and constant re-evaluation. Those aren’t just science lessons; they’re life lessons.

Being a Spartan means having a multitude of opportunities spread before you, with the ability to pursue any of them if you have will to do so. I have built a fulfilling and unforgettable life during my time at Michigan State, one built through searching out new experiences and perspectives on what I thought I previously knew. Each and every faculty and staff member at Michigan State fosters in students a will to discover, to question and to achieve. From Italy, to Honduras, to wherever my life’s journey takes me next, I will always carry that with me.