Motorcycle and medical school

Motorcycle and medical school

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Iowa native and UI advocate Chance Sullivan maps out the next year
Chance SullivanChance Sullivan, a native of Winterset, Iowa, is looking forward to touring the country on his motorcycle before going to medical school. Photo by Tim Schoon.

Chance Sullivan plans to spend part of the next year interviewing at medical schools. He might show up with a motorcycle helmet under his arm.

“That would be one way to get noticed,” says the University of Iowa senior originally from Winterset, Iowa, who’d like to mix med-school visits with a cross-country tour once he completes his biology degree this spring.

Sullivan is already winning recognition as a voice for the university. He’s spoken to alumni and supporters about his UI experience—including participation in a new Spring Break service initiative—and is among dozens of students taking part in Hawkeye Caucus events in Des Moines April 1-2.

“I came to campus expecting to sort of blend in,” he says. “Getting involved to the point where I run into friends everywhere was a big surprise.”

Hawkeyes hit Des Moines
Dozens of UI students like Chance Sullivan will visit the state capitol next week for the annual Hawkeye Caucus Day, Wednesday, April 2.

Held 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the capitol rotunda, the annual showcase for the university's connections to communities across the state offers a chance for students to meet Iowa legislators and other leaders. Faculty and staff will take part, too.

The Hawkeye Caucus advocates for the university all year around. Learn more or join the cause at

Perfect fit

Ending up at Iowa was itself unexpected.

In high school, Sullivan set his sights on small colleges, hoping to play football. But he decided to tag along with friends who were visiting the UI.

“I fell in love with the campus,” he recalls. “The opportunities for students interested in medicine are unparalleled—it’s hard to say no if your ultimate goal is to be a physician.”

During his last semester, Sullivan is mixing an honors biology seminar on model organisms in research (his focus: the nematode C. elegans), courses in cell biology and literature, and a handful of physical education credits (a welcome reward after three intense years).

He’s also continuing his work with a research team led by Bryan Phillips, assistant professor of biology. The lab is studying cell division, in particular a signaling pathway linked to cancer.

“I like the direct tie between basic research and health care,” Sullivan says. “It feels like I’m making one small contribution.”

He’s made other sorts of contributions, too, as president of the Medicus pre-med group, a resident assistant for honors students in Daum Hall, a teaching assistant for first-year biology, an emergency room volunteer, and even Homecoming king in fall 2013.

But a standout experience came earlier last year, when he joined a group of peers on a Spring Break trip to Memphis, Tenn.

Southern hospitality

Sullivan had been planning a conventional break trip when he heard about a new program sponsored by the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership.

Ten students would be chosen to head south and work with community organizations dedicated to public health. “The more I thought about it,” Sullivan says, “the more I knew it was a unique opportunity.”

After a series of training meetings—and, for Sullivan, practice driving a passenger van—the group set out.

Learn how this year's UI alternative Spring Break has grown to include four locations and a for-credit course.

In Memphis, they joined agencies providing support for families affected by HIV. They also helped establish an urban garden in a neighborhood where fresh produce was scarce.

“Growing up on a farm, we had our own garden,” Sullivan says. “This neighborhood was a food desert—the garden aimed to provide cheap, healthy alternatives to convenience stores and fast-food chains.”

Sullivan has become an advocate for the program, which this year dispatched student groups to Memphis, Detroit, Indianapolis, and St. Louis. Last fall, he joined a pre-game event hosted by UI President Sally Mason, encouraging donors to support future service initiatives.

“I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences at Iowa, but the alternative Spring Break program was one of the best,” he says. “We felt welcomed with real Southern hospitality by people who appreciated having us there.”

Whatever comes next

Sullivan may stick around campus—the UI Carver College of Medicine is on his list. But first there’s that motorcycle trip.

He recently connected with Sarah Gardial, Tippie College of Business dean and fellow rider. “Very casual conversation,” Sullivan says. “She gave me some great ideas on places to go.”

Wherever he ultimately ends up, Sullivan credits Iowa for letting him chart a route all his own.

“One big draw was coming here with a goal, but knowing I could switch to just about any track and be in a top program,” he says. “The resources and opportunities at a university like Iowa are unmatched.”


Lin Larson, University Communication and Marketing, 319-384-0042


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