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'Two for Texas' APSU couple secures well-funded fellowships

4/18/2006

There's a French inflection to her speech. His has a slight Southern accent. She's from Quebec. He's from Clarksville. She is a physics major; his major is biology. She swings a mean golf club. He doesn't play at all.

Canadian Pier-Anne Lachance came to APSU on a golf scholarship and, until an injury sidelined her, was one of the top players on the women's golf team. She graduates May 5, 2006.There's a French inflection to her speech. His has a slight Southern accent. She's from Quebec. He's from Clarksville. She is a physics major; his major is biology. She swings a mean golf club. He doesn't play at all.

Canadian Pier-Anne Lachance came to APSU on a golf scholarship and, until an injury sidelined her, was one of the top players on the women's golf team. She graduates May 5, 2006.
Kyle Covington, the son of John and Joni Covington, Clarksville, also graduates May 5, having completed his undergraduate studies in just three years—a rare occurrence these days when many students, especially those in the sciences, sometimes take five years.

Besides graduation, another celebration is in their future. Covington and Lachance are engaged to wed. What brought these seemingly dissimilar people together? Quantum physics. And it was a powerful interaction.

“Although Kyle was a biology major, he took a quantum physics class I also was taking,” Lachance says. “There was an immediate attraction, but…”

“But we both were very shy,” he says, finishing her sentence. “We tried to just be friends but before the end of the semester, we were dating.”

Their shared interest in science and a desire to continue their education proved to be a catalyst that quickly moved them from friendship to a committed relationship.

Although it was the love of science that brought them together in 2004, ironically it was a dedication to science that posed a potential threat to their being together in the short term. To pursue doctorates, both had to be accepted into graduate programs in the same city or vicinity.

In their junior year as they started getting ready for graduate work, they asked Dr. Gilbert Pitts, instructor of physiology in the department of biology, if they could be his student research assistants. Lachance's research involved efforts to start new immortalized cell lines, while Covington studied synchronization of neurons associated with reproduction.

This summer, their research interests will take them to a new level, as both head southwest to Houston for graduate work.

And the sweethearts received sweet deals from Baylor College of Medicine, with each one's financial package worth $33,180, including an annual stipend of about $23,000 each, plus tuition, fees and health care benefits, for the duration of their Ph.D. studies.

Initially, it seemed as if the couple's chances of staying together during doctoral studies were slim. After considering several graduate programs, Lachance flew to Houston to interview in January. “Baylor's a great school,” she says. “But pharmacology is not one of its strong programs. And Kyle wanted to do graduate work in pharmacology.”

However, while at Baylor, Lachance told the physiology department chair about Covington and his research interests. She learned that, a year ago, Baylor had launched a new program in translational biology. To her, it seemed to mesh with what Covington ultimately wanted, but there was another problem: It already was a month after the application deadline.

“That Monday, Kyle sent an application to Baylor. He got a call on Wednesday,” Lachance says, proudly. “He flew out to Houston Thursday for an interview. And he's been accepted into the program--the only one of its kind in the nation.”

Everything is coming together for the couple. She begins research in applied biophysics in June. Covington, whose research begins in the fall, is excited about being part of a new program—one that will enable him to translate his research directly to treatment protocols.

“‘Bench to Bedside' it's called,” Covington says. “Besides research, I'll have clinical rotations, which means I'll get to see the results of my research, not just read about it in a book.”

The couple is delighted with the prospects of their future at Baylor College of Medicine. Both will be working in one of the world's largest and most prestigious medical centers, one considered by many to be on par with the Medical Research Triangle in North Carolina.

Lachance and Covington will be working in a geographical area that encompasses 10 world-renowned hospitals, including M.D. Anderson. According to Covington, Baylor is No. 10 among medical schools and No. 22 for its Ph.D. program in biomedical research.

Baylor's Cancer Institute recently received a gift of more than $100 million from the Duncan family, an energy entrepreneur and a member of Baylor's board of trustees.

“Baylor puts a lot of money into good facilities,” Covington says. And into good people, one might add.

For more information about the APSU Department of Biology, telephone (931) 221-7781. For more information about the APSU Department of Physics and Astronomy, telephone (931) 221-6116. Information on both is accessible under academic departments at www.apsu.edu. — Dennie B. Burke