From Caps and Gown to Lab Coats: WPU Alumni Work on AIDS Research

Feb 21, 2024

Two recent William Peace University alumnae are on a remarkable journey from students to the forefront of AIDS research. Kiera Williams and Laura Langer, who graduated in May 2023, are carving their path as researchers at the Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) Laboratory at the University of North Carolina (UNC). 

Their story unfolds as a testament to their passion for science, instilled since their early years. Neither initially anticipated a career in biology, with WPU playing a pivotal role in their paths. The University provided a nurturing environment that equipped them with the confidence to ask questions, seek assistance, and face the challenges encountered in the CFAR, Williams said. 

The journey to CFAR unfolded when Peace alum Makayla Nicely connected them with Professors Rhonda Brown and Lisa Bonner, revealing the exciting opportunities within the AIDS research domain. The robust support system they experienced at WPU continues to leave them in awe, emphasizing the strength of the bonds forged within the institution.

“Lean on each other, like lean on the people who are there to support you, professors, faculty, staff, your peers, whoever it is, and you can’t do it by yourself,” said Williams. “And seriously, we could not. We could not be in this position. We could not have this job if we did not rely on our professors. If we didn’t rely on each other like going through the whole process: did you fill out your application? When’s your interview, tell me how your interview went. Just leaning on your village when you need to. Because you can’t do it by yourself.” 

Williams and Langer, despite CFAR being their first full-time job, describe the experience as making them feel like superheroes. Their research contributes to finding a cure for AIDS, offering personal fulfillment, and paving the way for future advancements in the field.

Overcoming challenges has become second nature to these determined individuals. Their transition to CFAR was marked by significant turnovers, with every teaching figure above them leaving the lab. But the hard work they put in while biology students at WPU instilled in them the grit to carry on. 

“The transition was really rough, and then I felt like we were the busiest we’d ever been, right after everybody who had been here for more than a month left,” said Langer. “But you know, we’ve been through stress. We’ve been like we’ve done the cram studying at Peace. You know, the hard practicals. We were ready. So, you know, it was hard, but we were able to do it and push through like we did at Peace.” 

Reflecting on the skills acquired at Peace, Williams and Langer highlight the importance of Collaboration, Confidence, and Leadership. The leadership opportunities at Peace significantly boosted Williams’ confidence, especially in public speaking and voicing her needs. Langer, who initially struggled with confidence at a larger institution, said she found her voice and courage at Peace, emphasizing the holistic development the college provided.

Langer’s advice to current students is to enjoy college while it lasts. 

“I would say definitely enjoy and cherish the time that you have because work is a lot different from undergrad,” she said.

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