Family Hardship Helps Inspire Student’s “Sense of Wonder and Appreciation for the Mind and Body.”

After learning she did not inherit Huntington’s disease as multiple relatives had, Elise Ogden ’21 was inspired to seek a career as a physician-scientist to help families like her own. Studying biochemistry and molecular biology at Bethel, Ogden has been able to pursue her passion for science—and follow her eclectic interests.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

October 23, 2020 | 10 a.m.

Elise Ogden ’21

Elise Ogden ’21 poses in front of the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford. Through her relationships with her professors, Ogden was able to spend a semester as a research assistant at Oxford University. Along with transformative studies, she was able to witness the “breathtakingly beautiful” churches, libraries, and colleges in Oxford.

As a child, Elise Ogden ’21 organized a “fun run, walk, and roll” at her elementary school in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, to raise awareness and funds for Huntington’s disease (HD) research. Her inspiration was her grandfather, who was lovingly known as “Grandpa Best.” “At that point, he could not walk, talk, or make a lot of facial expressions,” Ogden says. “That was my normal. That was my grandpa and I loved to spend time with him, even though we had to start communicating differently.”

Grandpa Best and her family continue inspiring and driving Ogden today. She is following a calling to help people like her grandfather—and her other family members—who are diagnosed with HD, a genetic disorder that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain—and is often hereditary. Ogden’s parents always encouraged her and her brother to pursue their passions, even when a young Ogden’s drive to play in the WNBA outweighed her basketball skills. But her interests shifted with her family’s health history. Ogden became interested in the ethics and science behind HD. After learning at age 17 that she had not inherited HD, Ogden decided to seek a career as a translational neurologist.

Elise Ogden ’21

Elise Ogden ’21, shown here with her grandparents, organized a fun run in fourth grade to raise awareness and funds for Huntington’s disease (HD) research. Her grandfather was diagnosed with HD and died from complications to the disease.

At first, Ogden thought Bethel would be a brief first stop. As Ogden came to Bethel as a PSEO student, she thought she needed to transfer for her career path.

“For some reason, I thought I needed to go to a large institution to get the research experience I need to apply for medical doctor/Ph.D. programs. I was so unbelievably wrong about that! The ability to build rapport with professors and having extracurricular research options available as soon as freshman year were what convinced me to stay.”

— Elise Ogden ’21
As she majors in biochemistry and molecular biology at Bethel, Ogden is able to pursue opportunities to delve deep into her scientific interests. And Ogden has formed close relationships with Associate Professor of Psychology Sherryse Corrow and Professor of Biological Sciences Joyce Doan, which have led to invaluable learning opportunities. “Building camaraderie with professors is one of the best parts of the Bethel experience,” Ogden says.

Ogden’s relationship with Doan led to a semester abroad at Oxford University. Doan received a research fellowship from Scholarship and Christianity in Oxford (SCIO) to explore biological evil and theodicy—or the notion of an omnipotent and benevolent God in the face of suffering. Since this work tied closely with Ogden’s experience with HD, Doan chose Ogden as her research assistant. Ogden calls her time at Oxford “the most transformative three and a half months” of her life. Along with assisting Doan, she also studied at Oxford, which was at times grueling. But Ogden says the challenges helped her build confidence as a writer in both the sciences and the humanities. She also made many new friends while living in a large house with many other students, and she was able to experience the “breathtakingly beautiful” churches, libraries, and colleges in Oxford. She is also still connected with a Christian thought journal called Through a Glass Darkly.

That experience with Doan isn’t the only time Ogden has been able to focus her studies on her interests. She worked with Corrow on a directed study project called “Advanced Neurophysics and Imaging Technology” to develop more specialized skills. The research is based on the structure of Ogden’s Oxford biochemistry tutorial. The work helps her take dense topics like computational neuroscience and the Penrose/Hameroff quantum consciousness hypothesis and translate them into something that people entirely outside of the sciences can understand, which she expects to be vital for her future as a researching physician. “I want families to not only understand exactly what is going on with a patient's treatment; I hope to share with them a sense of wonder and appreciation for the mind and body, even in the face of tragic diseases,” she says.
Elise Ogden ’21

Elise Ogden ’21 stops for a photo in the Oxford Mathematical Institute during her time studying at Oxford University while working as a research assistant for Professor of Biological Sciences Joyce Doan.

Ogden is also grateful that Bethel allowed her to merge her love of science and her faith. “I love that I am able to have deep conversations on a regular basis about faith and science with friends that I have made here,” she says. Ogden has been involved in Bethel’s Science and Religion Club’s Christmas and Easter events, and she’s able to explore the intersection of science and religion in classes. But she’s also able to blend in her love of theology and philosophy. “I love that my interests in theology and science can inform one another and that I am allowed to wrestle, ask hard questions, and evolve my thinking,” she says.

Through classes and clubs, Odgen has been able to follow many eclectic interests at Bethel. She loves writing poetry and was published in The Coeval, Bethel’s student literary journal, and she says her love of artistic expression helps her as a scientist. “I am also a creative, and I think that inviting my creativity into intellectual and scientific spaces improves my writing and helps me spread a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world,” she says. “Along with the creativity, I think that my analytical nature and open-mindedness make me a stronger scientist and truth-seeker.” Ogden also loves climbing, and she has been involved with Bethel’s Beta Climbing Club. She joined the Oxford University Mountaineering Club, too, even climbing in Snowdonia National Park in Wales.

Ogden is still early in her educational journey, but she’s received numerous opportunities already. She was recently one of two recipients from a pool of 350 to receive Women in Science and Technology Scholarships through Watermark. Along with an affirmation of her journey, Ogden says the scholarship helps ease her financial burden so she can focus on her studies. After graduation from Bethel, Odgen hopes to return to Oxford to pursue her Master of Science in Clinical and Therapeutic, and then she plans to start an MD/Ph.D. program and eventually complete a four-year neurology physician-scientist residency. Though that means she likely won’t be a board-certified physician until her 30s, Ogden remains committed to one day serving families like her own. “After honing my research skills through the lengthy art of becoming a physician-scientist, I hope to work on clinical trials for diseases similar to HD,” she says. “Hopefully there will be a cure by the time I am in practice.”

Study biology at Bethel.

Bethel’s Department of Biological Sciences gives students the space and tools to investigate the wonder and intricacies of life. Students explore the grand diversity of living things and embrace our call to care for all of creation through experiences in the lab, field, and classroom.

Learn more