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Biochemistry student defers Ph.D. to serve in U.S. Air Force

by Curran Kennedy, CLAS ’08 - June 2, 2008

Biochemistry graduate student Jie Hou wants to give back to the country his family immigrated to, so he will defer his Ph.D. to serve four years in the U.S. Air Force.

As the son of Chinese immigrants newly acclimated to America, Hou knows the importance of a college degree and the value of giving back to the community.

Hou, who graduated as a University Scholar with a B.S. in cell biology in 2007, is currently pursuing a master’s-Ph.D. in biochemistry with adviser Carolyn Teschke, associate professor of molecular and cell biology. Hou enlisted in the ROTC as an undergraduate.

“When I first got to UConn, I was only taking biology classes, but I didn’t know what I’d be doing after college,” he says. “I thought the Air Force had a lot to offer, and I think that because we’ve been so lucky to have the opportunity to come over here, I should take the opportunity to give back.”

The ‘we’ Hou refers to are his parents and brother, who brought him to West Hartford in 1999 from Qing Yuan, an impoverished village that had a strong sense of community but offered little chance of upward mobilization.

“I grew up in a poor village where everyone worked hard every day,” Hou says.

“In such a small community, you can learn a lot from other people, and the people of my village were good people. Back in the day, when communism was prominent and everyone worked hard but only got a share of what they gave, my parents taught me you have to be honest and work for the sake of being a worker, and not for bank returns.”

Hou has now added to the lessons of his parents the three basic core values learned in the Air Force: integrity, service before self, and excellence.

“I understand a lot of people don’t want to join the military now, but I don’t mind if they deploy me to the front lines; I have no complaint,” he says.

Graduate student Jie Hou, an immigrant from China, is putting his degree on hold to serve in the Air Force.
Graduate student Jie Hou, an immigrant from China, is putting his degree on hold to serve in the Air Force.
Photo by Daniel Buttrey

“The three core values taught me that I cannot be selfish, and I like the military. It’s a great way of giving back.”

Hou’s uncle, who has lived in Hartford since 1979, filed a petition with U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which brought Hou’s family to West Hartford.

Although it took 10 years on a waiting list to get approval to come to the United States, Hou has made the most of his short time here.

As part of his Ph.D. program, Hou has been conducting research that focuses on two secretion proteins that come from the pathogen that causes tuberculosis.

“This is interesting because, if you get rid of one of the proteins, the bacteria die,” Hou explains, “and if you get rid of the other, that makes it less effective in causing the disease. If someone can come up with a drug that can target these two proteins, we can have a more effective way of fighting TB, a disease that’s widespread in developing countries.”

Hou’s agreement with the Air Force is now signed. He will put his research on hold and leave at the end of September for training first in Alabama, then in Texas, before receiving his first assignment.

“I plan on coming back to UConn to finish my Ph.D. program,” he says, “but things may change, so you never know.”

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