Wednesday August 30, 2017

Good Things Come in Threes

The odds of having triplets are about 1 in 1,000. The chances a set of triplets would attend the University of Dayton, share the same major and work in the same research laboratories are no doubt smaller still.

Elizabeth, Steven and Michelle Borchers — in birth order — are junior pre-medicine majors from Columbus, Ohio. All three plan to pursue careers as physicians.

This summer, they conducted faculty-mentored undergraduate research in the labs of associate professors of biology Amit Singh and Madhuri Kango-Singh — who are, coincidentally, married.

The Borchers share much in common, including being members of the honors program and dean’s list, but they also have their own interests and activities. Elizabeth has a religious studies minor and competes in the tennis club. Steven is working toward a music minor and sings in a men’s a cappella group. Michelle is working toward a medical humanities minor and performs as a ballroom dancer.

“They are all very much their own persons,” said Kathleen Scheltens, director of pre-medical programs and academic advisor to all three siblings. “They all have their own passions and interests. Obviously, they are all very passionate about their futures in medicine.”

The students’ college and career paths owe a debt to their parents, University alumni Susan Borchers ’86 and Glen Borchers ’85, who are both Columbus physicians. The triplets weren’t necessarily a package deal, but each decided they would attend their parents’ alma mater if accepted.

The strength of the College of Arts and Sciences’ pre-medical programs helped drive their decision. The programs provide a comprehensive approach towards entry into professional schools of medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine and other allied health professions. They also provide clinical opportunities with community partners. Elizabeth and Steven both volunteer at Reach Out Montgomery County, a charitable clinic and pharmacy; Michelle volunteers in the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) at Miami Valley Hospital.

“Just hearing about the program and all of its wonderful benefits really pushed us that this is the right school to help us reach our goal,” Michelle Borchers said.

The triplets live separately on campus, but they support one another’s activities and often get together for movies, shopping and to attend church at the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, where Michelle sings in the choir and Elizabeth and Steven serve as Eucharistic ministers.

“When we decided to all go to the same school, we wanted to each give ourselves our own chance to make friends and not just cling to each other, because we’re so close,” Elizabeth Borchers said.

This summer, they all found themselves doing biology and genetics research in labs along the same Science Center hallway, through the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Summer Fellowship program and Berry Summer Thesis Institute.

Elizabeth and Steven both worked in Singh’s lab, which investigates early detection of Alzheimer's disease using the fruit fly’s eye as a model. Michelle worked in Kango-Singh’s lab, which uses fruit flies as a model organism to identify genes that might play a role in human brain cancers. The research has special meaning to them because their late paternal grandmother had both a brain tumor and Alzheimer’s disease.

Elizabeth’s research focused on the role of mitochondria, the powerhouse of a cell, in Alzheimer’s progression. Steven focused on immune system response to a soy-based protein called lunasin. Michelle manipulated components of the fruit fly’s signaling pathways to see if any of them are a factor in tumor growth.

“It was a great opportunity,” said Steven Borchers, a Berry Summer Thesis fellow. “I don’t know many other colleges that would allow undergraduates to do this level of research.”

Elizabeth and Michelle participated through the Dean’s Summer Fellowship program, which provides undergraduate students with high-impact experiential learning opportunities and an allowance for summer living expenses. This year, the program supported 55 students — a nearly 62 percent increase from 2016. The program, now in its seventh year, receives support from the Dean’s Fund for Excellence.

In addition to allowing students to focus on research outside of the busy academic year, the program also provided group activities such as a Dayton Dragons baseball game, a jazz concert at the Dayton Art Institute and a 5K color run at Welcome Stadium.

“(These activities allow us) to hear about other students’ research in the program,” Michelle said. “We’re passionate about our research and it’s really fun to hear about other people’s passions and how their research is going. That way you can connect with people, and not just go to your lab and go home.”

The triplets plan to continue their research projects during the fall semester and present their findings in spring 2018 at the University’s Bro. Joseph W. Stander Symposium, an annual showcase of graduate and undergraduate research.

In January, all three will participate in the University’s medical brigade to Nicaragua, a nine-day service trip to help provide medical care for those in need.

“They are excellent students and really committed to the curriculum and getting great service opportunities outside the classroom,” Scheltens said. “I think they are going to do amazing work as physicians in the future.”

To support the Dean’s Fund for Excellence, please call the University advancement division at 937-229-3217 or use the online donation form and specify the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Fund for Excellence. 

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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