Newman University alumna Jessica Bass ’14 is making her mark — an especially relevant one — on the world.
Bass currently serves as an infectious disease clinical fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Washington, D.C., area. The institution probably rings a bell given its importance during the pandemic.
The fellowship is a prestigious honor and one that fits exactly what Bass was looking for — an intense education in the overlap between infectious diseases and immunology.
“That’s not something that’s readily available or even very well understood,” Bass explained. “I was also looking for an area to do research because there are so many unknowns in this area, and I needed an avenue to be able to find my own answers where the literature comes up short. The NIH was really the marrying of all those components, and I feel incredibly lucky to have this opportunity and work alongside the people who wrote my medical textbooks.”
Bass is the first doctor of osteopathy to be selected for an NIH fellowship in infectious diseases.
Bass began working as the fellow after graduating medical school from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences and completing her internal medicine residency in Naples, Florida. She is a board-certified internal medicine physician.
“However, while I love medicine in general, I wanted to specialize further because my favorite part of the job is getting to the root of complex problems and understanding the how and why,” Bass said. “I’ve also found that my favorite problems to think about are those that involve infectious triggers or odd presentations of infections.”
Bass added that much of what she does today can be tied back to her experience at Newman, where she received a bachelor’s degree in biology with minors in chemistry, Spanish and international studies.
Time at Newman
While a student, Bass spent countless hours in the old Heimerman building and worked as a teaching assistant for general chemistry labs, organic chemistry labs and microbiology labs. She also had her first lab research experience with Associate Professor of Biology Michael Bradley there.
“All of those lab skills, and especially the micro lab skills, have translated very nicely to my current career and given me a good platform to build from,” Bass said.
But the Wichita native didn’t initially think she’d attend Newman, even though her mom, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Lori Steiner, encouraged her to consider it.
“However, being a rebellious teenager, I would always tell her there was no way I was going to go,” Bass recalled. “I eventually went to check it out and just had a good gut feeling. I had heard good things about the pre-med program, so I thought, ‘Why the heck not!’ and went for it.”
For Bass, the most special thing about Newman was the faculty.
“It is so rare these days that you find faculty who are truly ‘all-in’ for their students,” she said.
A couple of examples Bass shared are Bradley and Assistant Professor of Spanish Sonja Bontrager.
“Dr. Bradley practically lives on campus,” she said. “Everyone in the science building knows him and knows when he’s coming — subtlety has never been his strength. He had an open-door policy and always had someone on his couch. He takes the time to engage with his students and really invests himself in their success.”
Bass adds that Bontrager is the same way.
“As a very literal person who was raised by a statistician, Sonja challenged me in ways that I wouldn’t have been capable of on my own,” she said.
Bass also points out her incredible experience on the Guatemala Study and Serve trip in 2011.
“I can honestly say that it was the single most impactful thing I’ve ever done from a personal growth standpoint,” she said. “It taught me what it was like to be foreign and allowed me to completely immerse myself in another culture and has given me an understanding that has allowed me to connect with so many people throughout life.”
She continued, “On top of that, the amount of Spanish I learned in a relatively short amount of time continues to be an essential part of my life. I can’t remember the last day at work when I didn’t speak at least some Spanish.”
Even Bass’s mom knows how impactful her faculty members and Newman experiences were.
“Newman helped to instill a passion for learning in Jessica,” Steiner said. “It was at Newman that she learned to love research and science. She also saw firsthand through the Guatemala trip and other service programs how she can make a difference in other people’s lives, especially those who are disadvantaged.”
And when it comes to what she’s most proud of about her daughter, Steiner knows exactly what to say.
“I am most proud that Jessica is a loving wife and wonderful mother who tries to balance life with family during this challenging fellowship,” Steiner said. Bass is the mother of a 2-year-old and 4-year-old. “She remains compassionate toward patients and prides herself in listening carefully. She has a special heart for the poor and disadvantaged.”
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