Kennesaw State graduate blends arts and science, evolves as researcher
KENNESAW, Ga. (Jul 30, 2021) — Hope Didier forged her own path at Kennesaw State – an academic journey that blended divergent passions in dance and the sciences.
The July graduate will earn two bachelor’s degrees this week in fields not typically paired: dance and molecular and cellular biology. Didier intertwined the two degrees seamlessly, serving as stage manager in multiple dance productions and spearheading cancer cell research that led to scholarly recognition at state and national levels. This fall, she will continue her education at Wake Forest University in a molecular medicine doctoral program.
“I would take certain biological principles or ideas and use them as a foundation for a piece I was choreographing or to better educate my peers on what our bodies are actually doing as we move and dance in space,” said Didier, who has been dancing since age 3.
“As a scientist and dancer, I can appreciate the movement of the often unseen aspects of life under a microscope, in a way that I’m not sure many would, and then translate that work in a manner that could be understood by more individuals, no matter their background or expertise.”
Didier credits her parents, who teach middle school math and science, for her biology enthusiasm. She added that her parents encouraged creativity and curiosity, and also have a strong interest in music, which likely led to her dance involvement at an early age. Like many of her friends, Didier contemplated a ballet career, having danced with the Atlanta Ballet throughout high school and performed at the Fox Theatre and the Cobb Energy Centre.
Didier’s interest in KSU Journey Honors College led her to apply to its President’s Emerging Global Scholars (PEGS) program, an initiative that challenges Honors students to grow as scholars, leaders and innovators. She was impressed by the faculty who interviewed her for the program and the opportunity to study abroad in both Costa Rica and Italy during her first year.
A friend from the PEGS program introduced her to Jonathan McMurry, a biochemistry professor in the College of Science and Mathematics, since Didier was eager to explore scientific research as an undergraduate.
“Hope was so obviously driven, intelligent, and genuinely interested in research,” McMurry said. “I saw untapped potential in her as a freshman, and that’s the type of student researcher every professor wants to encounter.”
Didier evolved into an accomplished and disciplined researcher, focusing on using cell-penetrating peptides, or short chains of amino acids, to deliver biomolecular cargo into cervical cancer cells to stop cell growth and catalyze cell death.
She presented aspects of her work at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research twice, and Posters at the Georgia State Capitol in 2020. She won the Top Poster Award at the Birla Carbon Symposium, in which she spent the entire summer conducting research, and received the Anthony Shuker Scientific Award at the Georgia BioInnovation Summit, both in 2018.
Didier’s research interests in the healthcare field carried over into volunteering and conducting research at the Emory Winship Cancer Institute and working in the trauma/surgery ICU at Wellstar Health System’s Kennestone Hospital as an operating room surgical technician.
“I witnessed firsthand the frontlines of the global pandemic and had the terrifying privilege of holding the hands of critically ill and dying patients,” Didier said. “It was physically and emotionally challenging, but also made it increasingly clearer to me that I am meant to serve patients and advocate for the very best healthcare practices.”
Ultimately, the Peachtree City, Ga. native knew that her trajectory would lean more toward a career in medicine.
“Classes like kinesiology and nutrition and learning the way the body moves and works has opened my eyes to how I could meld my two passions,” she explained. “I’m going to keep dancing as part of my life, whether I’m teaching on the side or doing small work for studios or companies.”
As part of KSU Journey Honors College, Didier completed two Honors theses – one in biology on the deterioration and death of cervical cancer cells and the other in dance, focused on a kinesiological approach for understanding the biological phenomenon of programmed cell death.
Didier credits the dance program for expanding her knowledge and techniques, preparing her for any aspect of dance. She learned about the production side of dance from part-time instructor David Tatu, and worked alongside him last spring on a unique production, “Moon Dust,” a collaboration between the College of the Arts and the College of Computing and Software Engineering.
“As an artist and a scientist, I have found that there is this shared zeal for inquiry and constant curiosity, which makes solving problems and creating art so exciting,” she said. “My two worlds have a lot to learn from one another, and I look forward to future opportunities in which my passions can come together to create something beautiful and share knowledge in an innovative way.”
Now Didier is ready to take on the next challenge, pursuing a doctorate in molecular medicine and translational science at Wake Forest University. She will then transition into the physician assistant program in the Wake Forest School of Medicine.
“My entire time at KSU has been a massive highlight of my life and always will be,” Didier said. “The people are what make KSU amazing, and for that I am eternally grateful.”
– Joëlle Walls
Photos by David Caselli
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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the second-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 126 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.