Written By Gregory Fischbach

March 14, 2024
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  • HPU alumnus Corey Hansen in Columbia University's Simunovic Lab

    HPU alumnus Corey Hansen in Columbia University's Simunovic Lab.

  • Corey Hansen with his wife in New York City

    Corey Hansen with his wife in New York City.

HPU alumnus Corey Hansen ‘16 has devoted countless nights to contemplating the intricacies of life and the essence of one's true identity. His roots trace back to San Antonio, Texas, where he grew up. A fascinating blend of cultures shaped his background, with his mother hailing from the Philippines, having immigrated to the U.S. through her service in the U.S. Army. It was in the U.S. that destiny brought Corey's parents together, immersing him in the rich tapestry of Army culture, an environment that would impact his decision to enlist in the Marines.

“After graduating from Karen Wagner High School, I decided to try community college. But it wasn’t for me at the time, so I decided to enlist into the Marine Corps for some adventure in my life,” said Hansen.

His time in the Marines played a profound impact on who he is and has helped shape everything he has achieved since enlisting. He gained a level of confidence and experience from the military in how he approaches obstacles in life. 

Corey Hansen with his wife in New York City

Corey Hansen with his wife in New York City.

“During my military occupation specialty school, I made sure to do my best to get the highest grade in the class to get my top choice of duty stations,” said Hansen.

On the top of that list was Hawaiʻi.

“My first couple years in Hawaiʻi, I was stationed at Pearl Harbor, working in a joint military intelligence environment that exposed me to working with all the military branches and ranks, from private (seaman) to general (admiral).”

This new job experience gave Hansen an increased level of assurance. He was expected to give critical information to high-ranking people who made vital decisions. Drawn to adventure and new experiences to be made while in Hawaiʻi, Hansen volunteered to move to Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay to help start a new reconnaissance platoon.

“We worked in small six-man teams and physically trained from before sunrise to sundown almost every day,” said Hansen. “While extremely difficult, I was able to push the boundaries of my physical, mental, and spiritual toughness. I made some of the greatest friends and it was one of the best experiences of my life.” 

While stationed in Hawaiʻi, Hansen discovered HPU and the myriad opportunities the University offers for military personnel. He enrolled in night classes on the base and knew right away that the biochemistry major was his true calling in life. 

“For anyone in the military, I highly recommend you take as many classes as you can if you have the opportunity. Everything that I learned at HPU has had direct applications to my current, everyday research,” said Hansen. “My experience interning at the Oceanic Institute (OI) for a summer in the shrimp genetics department was an incredible experience that allowed me to greatly improve my wet lab skills, as well as in my job and in preparing graduate school applications. The chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry lab courses at HPU were also instrumental in establishing my laboratory skills. 

Corey Hansen at an organic farm in Waialua, Hawai'i

Corey Hansen at an organic farm in Waialua, Hawai'i.

“One of my favorite classes was a cultural anthropology class where the main project was to find a group of people you know nothing about and join them. We had to write about our experience with them and I decided to join an organic farm in Waialua. I helped build a hale on the farm and decided to volunteer on the farm for three months after I left the Marines. I still volunteer on this farm every time I come to visit, and I have to say it’s my favorite place in the world.”

Hansen graduated from HPU in 2016 with a bachelor of science in biochemistry. He knew that the next step of his educational journey would be with gene editing technology and stem cell research. After searching for research assistant positions across the country he accepted an offer in New York City.

“It was an incredible lab to work in and we were creating autologous gene-corrected stem cell derived skin grafts for patients with a disease called Recessive Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa (RDEB),” Hansen said. “While still in the early stages of research for the treatment, it showed me the amazing potential of stem cell therapy. With this wonderful experience in applied scientific research, I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of exactly how stem cells work and the best path for advancing my scientific career was through a Ph.D.”

In 2019, Hansen was accepted into Columbia University’s Genetics and Development Ph.D. program, working in the Simunovic Lab where the primary goal is to understand the biology of early human development. 

“How do we go from just one cell to us?” Hansen mused. “To me it’s just so amazing that we are made of trillions of cells, hundreds of different cell types, multiple organ systems, all working perfectly together… most of the time.

“Since it’s impossible to study human development at these early time points, we are developing microengineering techniques to create in vitro human models that support the development of our stem cells. This interdisciplinary approach allows us to investigate cells at different time points by applying various hormones and nutrients so that we can better understand the mechanisms that are involved with these early developmental stages.”

Hansen is expected to graduate from Columbia University with his Ph.D. in 2025. His dream job is to become a mission specialist astronaut.

“I would love to do scientific experiments on the International Space Station (ISS), but I know the chances of being selected are extremely slim,” said Hansen. “Realistically, I want to keep contributing to stem cell research and can do so by either becoming a professor, or by working in the biotech industry.”

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