May 14, 2018

Anchors Aweigh

Biology major sets course to become Navy doctor

Ask children what they want to be when they grow up, and they may say firefighter, policeman or NBA All-Star. However, few follow up on those dreams. David S. Axford is an exception.

"My life’s passion has been to serve in the United States Navy," said Axford of Marietta. “Now that dream is coming true as I’m headed to medical school on scholarship, so that I can pursue a career as a physician in the Navy.”

The biology major, who is graduating summa cum laude from Kennesaw State University (KSU), is headed for The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine at Auburn University this July on a full U.S. Navy Health Professions Scholarship.

Photo of Biology Major David S. Axford

A conscientious student, when he does have some free time from his studies, Axford heads for the water. A scuba diver and avid angler, he volunteers with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, which gives disabled veterans an opportunity to cast off some of their day-to-day concerns and enjoy an outing with people like him.

“When you do land that fish, you have accomplished something difficult,” Axford said. “That does a lot for someone’s confidence who may be dealing with PTSD or issues related to an injury. It shows someone that ‘I can do this.’”

A love of the water and the Navy, the genesis of Axford’s twin passions was nurtured by his family at an early age.

"Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve had a fascination with water," said Axford who looked up to his dad, a state champion swimmer. “He passed away when I was 10 years old, and later I swam the breaststroke on the Sprayberry High team."

While at Sprayberry, Axford also participated in the U.S. Navy Junior ROTC curriculum. His interest in NJROTC’s emphasis on leadership and teamwork was nurtured through his admiration for his late grandfather.

“My mom’s dad, Noel, was a captain and an aviator in the Navy. Although he passed away the year I was born, I gained an idealized perspective of him,” Axford said. “And he, along with my father, solidified my connection to the water and my interest of going into the Navy.”

Axford realized early on academics could be his ticket to a career as a Navy doctor.

A partial list of his accomplishments at Kennesaw State run the gamut from the President’s Emerging Global Scholars (PEGS) program, Zell Miller Scholarship, Birla Carbon Scholar, Council on Undergraduate Research and Honors College to the Student Advisory Board to the Dean and the Limb Analysis Research Group.

Axford also has been honored with the Outstanding Graduating Biology Student Award from the College of Science and Mathematics.

“David is definitely one of the top students I’ve encountered here at Kennesaw State,” said Jennifer Louten, an associate professor of biology who heartily recommended him for med school.

When he’s not in the classroom, Axford is a laboratory research assistant working with the CRISPR/Cas genome editing system and cell-penetrating peptides.

His mother, who is a librarian at Sprayberry High, helped stoke his interest in reading, research and academics.

“My mom represents the liberal arts side of our family,” he said. “I explained to her that one of my first projects in the lab was how to make bacteria build other bacterial components in them, and she has done her homework to understand the science behind it.”

As part of a team of Kennesaw State faculty and students, Axford helped develop a novel cell-penetrating peptide technology that could result in new medical treatments ranging from improved cosmetic procedures to assisting in the fight against cancer to curing genetic diseases, according to team leader Jonathan McMurry, KSU’s associate vice president for research. Axford is coauthor on a paper describing the technology published last year in the journal PLOS One.

“He has also been a superb ‘lab citizen’ in that he has helped train several junior students and is actively engaged in several projects,” said McMurry.

In April, Axford was selected to present his research at the prestigious National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) at the University of Central Oklahoma.

“I had the good fortune to present at NCUR and at the Experimental Biology Conference last year, along with some other conferences here and at UGA,” he said. “The presentation experience is important for anyone in research. You have to be able to communicate your research to your community, particularly for science students.

“I love that KSU is hosting NCUR on campus next year because it will open doors for people to talk about their research.”

– Robert S. Godlewski
Photos by David Caselli.

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