Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with Kyle Kremiller. In 2015, Kyle joined the Rutgers wrestling team from Perry, Ohio. He was an Ohio State Champion at 195 pounds, the team captain, MVP of the football team, and a National Honor Society member. Kyle graduated from Rutgers in 2019 with a major in Genetics and a minor in Chinese. Currently, Kyle is in the combined MD/PhD program at the University of Illinois College of Medicine located in Chicago.
David: Kyle it is great to catch up with you. Thanks for being open to discussing your wrestling background, your days at Rutgers, and life as an MD/PhD student.
Kyle: My pleasure. Always love to discuss Rutgers, wrestling, and my pursuit of medical science. I am forever grateful to Rutgers.
David: Tell us a little about your high school athletic and academic experience.
Kyle: At first football was my first love. But, wrestling soon became my passion. My high school coach was a college All-American and he pushed me. I loved that he made me work hard. It gave me a chance to get better every day. My junior year, I finished 4th in the state and won the title my senior year.
From an academic standpoint, I loved science and always wanted to learn what would happen to my body when I really push it.
The highlight of my high school academic career was our Robotics Club winning the state championship and competing in the World Robotics Championship.
David: How did you wind up at Rutgers and what other schools were recruiting you?
Kyle: After my junior year Coach Goodale reached out to me and we began a dialogue. My senior year I was between Duke, Brown, Rutgers, and a couple other schools. On my Rutgers visit I connected with my future teammates and loved the Honors College. Having air conditioning was a big perk. It came down to Rutgers and Duke and I soon realized that Rutgers was the best place for me. It was closer to Ohio, gave access to New York City, the Jersey Shore, and offered great educational opportunities to make connections for life. I grew up an Ohio State football fan, so being in the Big Ten was a plus. The decision to attend Rutgers was one of the best decisions I ever made. Jersey is truly awesome.
David: Tell me about your wrestling experience and your relationship with your teammates and coaches.
Kyle: Wrestling was an awesome experience. I was really pushed in practice and learned the importance of getting better everyday. I woke up in the morning knowing that it was a new day to improve my skills. It was different from high school. In high school, not everyone is always on the same page or at a high caliber of wrestling. At Rutgers, everyone had the same mindset and wanted to be a champion. Off the mat, I created bonds with teammates that will last forever. We spent time volunteering together working closely with The Embrace Kids Foundation and giving our time in a plethora of other ways which benefited Rutgers and the Great State of New Jersey. It was very satisfying seeing both the wrestlers and coaches give it their all on the mat and in the community.
David: By the end of your sophomore year you focused your interest on science and medical research. How did that come about?
Kyle: During my freshman year I took several science courses and really started to gain a fascination in medicinal sciences especially. I also attended some talks and case conferences with multiple departments of medicine such as neurology, Infectious Disease, Critical Care, etc. at RWJ Hospital. On top of that, I took advantage of shadowing physicians at Rutgers affiliated hospitals, The Cleveland Clinic, and the Great Lakes Health Systems.
Also, I had started an internship the summer after my freshman year that by the end of my sophomore year had turned into a part-time job that I was ecstatic for. The SKWC had connected me with Dr. David Alland. This connection was one of the most important connections in my life thus far. Dr. Alland is a world-renowned infectious disease scientist. He is Chief of the Division of Infectious Disease and Director of the Public Health Research Institute at the Rutgers. He is noted for breakthrough research related to TB testing.
David: How was it working for Dr. Alland?
Kyle: Dr. Alland reminded me of my wrestling coaches in the way they pushed and challenged me. He never held my hand and always questioned me to make sure I knew “why’ I was conducting this research. He really stressed the “why” component and pushed me to be a great scientist and critical thinker. He was pushing me so that I could become a scientist that would push the boundaries of science in medicine. Both Dr. Alland and my coaches were stern and encouraging. The bottom line was on the mat, or in the lab they all wanted me to succeed, and always pushed me to be my best self.
David: Kyle can you take us through your progression at Rutgers and your decision to enroll in a combined MD/PhD program?
Kyle: Wow, it was a long progression and a lot of fun. When I started with Dr. Alland for my summer internship I would get up at 5am to work out. Afterwards, I would drive to his lab in Newark. By putting in the time, effort, and listening, I learned the importance of understanding the “why” to a specific experiment. I was constantly pushed to understand the “why”.
During my sophomore year, I was invited to continue my research in Dr. Alland’s lab. By the spring semester, I was taking a full academic load plus spending three days a week in the lab. I was fortunate to work with Dr. Kumar, a senior scientist, who helped discover two anti-TB drugs. I basically ran TB experiments and worked full-time in the lab during the summer of my sophomore year. By the end of my sophomore year going into my junior year, I was paid as a part-time lab assistant. This time and effort helped me realize and develop a passion for researching infectious diseases (particularly TB).
David: Why TB and infectious diseases?
Kyle: Currently 1.5 million people die from TB each year and about 10 million people are infected every year. About one-third of the world’s population has latent or active TB. There is a goal to eliminate TB by 2030. I would love to contribute to achieving that goal. So as you can see this bacteria has been successful for quite a long time and is very hard to rid the world of it. I take this personally as a challenge and it is no easy feat.
Also on top of continuing my work with Dr. Alland, the summer prior to my senior year, I was able to go work on another project in Dr. Joel Freundlich’s laboratory. He had a lab that worked closely with Dr. Alland. So my day basically got a lot longer in the lab because I was working in two labs, but it was an awesome experience. There I was able to delve into more chemistry (organic synthesis) and make novel anti-TB drugs. During that project I had made about 10 TB drugs that were sent to labs in Boston for further testing. I hope soon we find out that some of these drugs could be very effective. This only furthered my interest, and view on how I could work towards developing a cure to TB. It also painted a very wholesome picture of how long of a process it is to find and develop a cure.
David: Can you discuss your decision to pursue a joint MD and PhD degree?
Kyle: By my junior year, I knew I wanted to go to medical school and took the MCATs. Working in a lab, I also knew that I loved research and trying to discover medical breakthroughs. After speaking with my mentors such as Dr. Alland, Dr. Kumar, Dr Frendlich and many others, it became clear that a combined MD/PhD was what I needed. Also, I knew right away that I could not deny myself or deny my passion the opportunity to embrace both the paths of becoming a physician and researching medicinal sciences. This ultimately would provide me with more options and opportunities. Today, the MD/PhD program is an 8 year program where the first two years consist of classroom studies for my MD degree followed by up to four years where I will earn my PhD in medicinal chemistry. During the last two years, I will complete the clinical rotations requirements to obtain my MD.
David: How has the coronavirus impacted your studies?
Kyle: Classes have continued and have moved on-line. In addition, I am involved in a citywide medical student initiative to provide support during this crisis. Myself and another student are the heads of volunteer teams that work with medical labs that conduct virus testing so the scientists can keep up with the work demand. Also we work with the infectious disease department at UI Health to make sure wherever they need help it will be met.
David: Kyle, as we conclude, any final thoughts on your Rutgers experience and what would you say to prospective students?
Kyle: Rutgers is a great place. If you are open to opportunity and embrace hard work, you absolutely will find what you need in order to succeed. As a member of the wrestling team, I learned the value of hard work, passion, and persistence. The coaches prepared me for the challenges that Dr. Alland placed in front of me. I took advantage of the SKWC’s mentoring program and without it I never would have had the connections I made in order to succeed. It is amazing to reflect on what a simple act by the SKWC did to help me because it made an everlasting impact on my life and future path.
The professors at Rutgers are great and willing to help and guide you. When you show initiative, they will go out of their way for you.
First, I would like to thank the Rutgers Honors College and all of Rutgers staff for making my time here a great experience. That holds a special place in my heart. Also, I want to especially thank Professor John Taylor from the chemistry department who was a great role model and has made an enormous impact on my love for chemistry, teaching, and science. An obvious relentless thanks goes to Dr. Freundlich and Dr. Alland for the opportunity to work in their laboratories. Lastly, I would like to thank Coaches Goodale, Pritzlaff, and Leonardis for the opportunity to represent Rutgers both on the mat and in the classroom. This truly is the epitome of a one of a kind opportunity.
At Rutgers, you can be what you want to be and do what you dream of. Wake up with initiative and be persistent and you will achieve your dreams at Rutgers. I am forever grateful to Rutgers.
David: Thank you Kyle. Rutgers nation looks forward to your future success.
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