Bobby Hollingsworth, a triple major in chemical engineering, biochemistry, and chemistry, has been named Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering’s 2017 Outstanding Senior.

In his four years at Virginia Tech, Hollingsworth has been actively involved in Virginia Tech's Honors College, led the Department of Chemical Engineering’s Chem-E-Car team, published a co-authored paper, has won a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, and was an Honors College Class of 1954 Fellow.

He has worked in research labs at Virginia Tech, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and as an Amgen Scholar at Harvard University, with a focus on researching viruses and diseases — most notably, HIV and cancer — and how they interact with vaccines and drugs.

“I first met Bobby at freshman engineering orientation during the summer of 2013. He shared with me his academic goals and I thought that no one could possibly achieve so much in such a short period of time,” said Preston Durrill, undergraduate advisor and adjunct professor for the Department of Chemical Engineering. “As I observed his problem-solving skills and his work ethic, my doubts disappeared. Bobby has clearly met and exceeded the ambitious goals he set for his undergraduate education. He is a truly remarkable young man.”

Hollingsworth credits his Class of 1954 fellowship experience with shaping his outlook on research. During the five-week fellowship, which Hollingsworth designed himself, he traveled back to his childhood home of Botswana to work directly with pediatric HIV patients at the Botswana-Baylor Children's Clinical Center of Excellence.

While there, Hollingsworth witnessed the human factors in treating disease. As he shadowed physicians in the clinic, he learned about the circumstances that prevent HIV patients from being treated, such as the stigma surrounding HIV in the region. Even though some patients had access to medicine, they would throw away the pills, refusing to recognize and treat the virus.

“It's hard seeing those things and all these barriers that I didn't know existed,” Hollingsworth said. “I was a little naive in thinking, you know, I can make this drug, and 'it's magic, it's cured the disease!'”

It’s one thing to design a drug in a lab, he said, “but then the human factor impacts so much."

In the photo, Bobby Hollingsworth uses lab equipment while wearing a white lab coat.
Hollingsworth works in a lab.

In fall 2017, Hollingsworth will take his systemic-thinking approach to Harvard University, where he will pursue a Ph.D. in biological and biomedical sciences.

Long-term, he hopes to work in biomedical research and public health, running a lab and acting as an advocate for reducing costs of creating life-saving drugs in order to better reach underserved communities.

He wants to continue learning all aspects of the lab-to-patient drug delivery process, including how government policies, education, and other real-world factors impact whether or not a patient receives the medicine they need.

“Studying engineering at Virginia Tech has taught me how to think rationally, analyze data, and problem solve,” Hollingsworth said. “These critical thinking skills will be invaluable in solving complex, novel problems in research and human health.”

Sponsored by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and the senior class, the Outstanding Senior Award recognizes exceptional academic achievement and leadership by a graduating senior from each of the university’s eight colleges. Recipients have a minimum grade-point average of 3.75 on a 4.0 scale and are selected by faculty and students within their respective colleges.

Written by Erica Corder

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