Student spends summer interning with Armed Forces

by Alyssa Saari

Junior Alex Hoffmann had the opportunity to intern with the Navy Research Enterprise Internship program last summer. Biology professor Frank Caccavo introduced Hoffmann, who is majoring in biology with a pre-med track, to the program.

“I didn’t think I would get it. It was intimidating,” Hoffmann said. “Then Dr. Vijay Singh called and said ‘Are you fully committed to AFRRI?’”

Singh is a principal investigator at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute (AFRRI). The AFRRI offered Hoffmann to partake in a ten-week program to research and apply molecular biology techniques to study radiation countermeasures for the protection of soldiers and civilians who are exposed to acute radiation syndrome. Hoffmann saw the immense opportunity he was given and packed his bags to see new sights—Bethesda, Maryland.

The main purpose for those studies is to research radiation cases such as Chernobyl in 1984 and Fukushima in 2011 in order to treat radiation exposure in the chances that another disaster occurs.

Radiation poisoning is a tragic and painful death, Hoffmann said. An individual suffers for about a week or so due to the loss of cells in the blood and the intestines. Since the white blood cells are attacked and killed, the individual is more prone to obtaining diseases and infections through bacteria.

“I was given a lot of freedom by Dr. Singh, who gave me a structured environment and all the resources I needed to conduct my research,” Hoffmann said.

Hoffmann was allowed to work on his mentor’s previous research and work with information on a secret clearance.

The experience Hoffmann gained from his internship affected not only his mindset, but his passion for helping others, he said.

“An MD/PhD opens up a lot of opportunities,” Hoffmann said, explaining how he now has the ability to put everyday medicine into practice by treating patients, while also having the ability to help further scientific research to expand the world of medicine.

Hoffmann is interested in applying to the University of Washington, Columbia University of New York, possibly Harvard and a list of other schools since the medical field is highly competitive. Additionally, the internship exposed Hoffmann to the military world for the first time, enticing him into studying at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and eventually taking the role as a general surgeon.

Hoffmann is grateful for the opportunity he was given, because without it he may not have expanded his mindset to stretch his calling for new possibilities, he said. It is important to highlight the amazing qualities internships carry for students and the many opportunities Whitworth has for its students, he said.

Contact Alyssa Saari at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *