Emily EricksonAs a recipient of the prestigious Churchill Scholarship, Emily Erickson will work on a master's degree at the University of Cambridge in Great Britain. She'll continue to focus on breast cancer research. (Photo by Tom Campbell)

​From Goats to Cambridge

Churchill Scholarship Winner to Continue Breast Cancer Research Abroad​

By Rosanne Altstatt - Published May 18, 2015

Emily Erickson grew up on a hobby farm—milking dairy goats, raising chickens and growing vegetables. In addition to this hands-on experience, she and her siblings made the management decisions for the family enterprise as well.

Dairy goats were her favorite project. She learned about herd health and management, participated in 4-H and attended shows. Goats also fueled science-minded Erickson's interest in research.

"Milking dairy goats every day sparked my interest in mammary biology research, and with that my research career began to take off," says Erickson, now a senior biochemistry major.

National Recognition

Her impressive undergraduate research career culminated in January when she was awarded the prestigious Churchill Scholarship. Only 14 students nationwide receive this competitive award, which funds a one-year master's degree in science, engineering or mathematics at Churchill College at University of Cambridge in Great Britain.

"We are as proud of Emily as her family and friends must certainly be," says Purdue President Mitch Daniels. "As our first Churchill winner since 1997, she has brought honor to our entire university. We wish Emily the best of luck and know she will be a tremendous Boilermaker ambassador."

Erickson's goal is to conduct research in Cambridge's Department of Pathology that will eventually lead to the development of more effective treatments and therapeutic solutions for breast cancer.

She began this line of research in the lab of Karen Plaut, senior associate dean for research and faculty affairs at Purdue. ''Researching aspects of breast cancer in Dr. Plaut's lab led me to spend a summer at the National Institutes of Health,'' Erickson says. “I studied the regeneration of the mouse mammary gland and how the signaling involved in its regeneration may possess the capacity to redirect cancerous cells." This research also introduced her to mammary stem cells, the part they play in the normal development of the mammary gland and their role in the progression of cancer.

Erickson also spent a summer at the Mayo Clinic, working in drug discovery for pulmonary fibrosis. Her academic accomplishments have led to several national distinctions, including the Goldwater Scholarship and Astronaut Scholarship. She says these experiences helped her through the rigorous application process for the Churchill Scholarship. Purdue's National and International Scholarships Office helped her navigate the scholarship application process.

A Balanced Life

Emily Erickson
Emily Erickson. (Photo by John Underwood)

Erickson also continues her childhood connection with goats, co-founding the Purdue Goat Club and currently serving as its president. The goat club hosts outreach activities such as ''Pet a Kid'' and conducts workshops across Indiana to educate youth about goats and their worldwide role in agriculture and sustainability. “Goats are so efficient," she says. “They can browse on trees and shrubs, and provide milk and meat."

Her passion for goats and music—she's principal violist in the Purdue Philharmonic Orchestra—helps keep life balanced for the busy young researcher. She plans to play her viola as part of Churchill College's Musical Society, which coordinates several ensembles and performing groups of students and staff. “I'm excited to continue my musical experiences at Cambridge, as music is such a big part of my life," she says.

Erickson credits the College of Agriculture's tight-knit community with providing a supportive environment in which to thrive. “The connections, networking and encouragement from professors and mentors have been so helpful."

From goats to Cambridge by way of Purdue Agriculture—what a journey. And it's only the beginning.