A&S Class of ’24: Undergrad Research Experience Leads Cole Blanton to the NIH

Cole Blanton

This fall, the Class of ‘24’s Cole Blanton will head to Bethesda, Maryland, where he will work with the National Institutes of Health doing research on pediatric lupus, but first he’ll graduate this spring as a distinguished major in neuroscience, adding minors in both Korean and data science to his list of credentials.

Neuroscience has been a lifelong interest of Blanton’s, and the skills he learned in data science have helped him with the research he has accomplished as a student of the sciences.  But the minor in Korean?

“That’s just something I did for fun,” Blanton said.  “It’s just something I wanted to learn.” 

However, the experience opened a whole new perspective to him.

Like many of today’s STEM students looking for the best possible start to a career in the sciences, Blanton came to UVA looking for an undergraduate experience that includes hands-on research opportunities, and those opportunities have been the high point of his time on Grounds.

As a research assistant in the College’s Kucenas Lab, Blanton has spent several years working with a graduate student mentor studying zebra fish and genetics, an opportunity that has also provided him with meaningful summer employment.

“The best thing you can get out of a college experience is being able to apply what you’re learning in a real-life scenario,” Blanton said, and the experience of working with neuroscientist Sarah Kucenas has given him the chance to bring much of what he has learned in classroom to his research.

“Dr. Kucenas has been a great mentor not only for my research but also for what I want to do after.  She’s been really supportive and really helpful,” Blanton said.

On his path to medical school, he has also spent time with a UVA vascular neurologist educating members of the Charlottesville community about stroke awareness, he has worked with a local nonprofit that helps get medical supplies to those who need them, and he spent a year working as an EMT, but he also had the chance to study in South Korea and to host a group of students visiting from South Korea, opportunities that have given him a new view of the world.

“The best part about being a UVA student is the connections you can make and the experiences you can find here,” Blanton said. “It’s not easy to open yourself up and reach out for new experiences like that, but you never know what’s going to become important to you,” Blanton said.  “I’m really proud of having made that effort.”


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