Keely O'Keefe - Student Success

Keely O'Keefe - Student Success

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Redmond, Oregon, is a long way from Lamoni, but Keely O’Keefe knew she wanted to come to Graceland University. “I was attracted to the small community aspect, and because I’d visited several summers attending Spectacular, I felt like I belonged.” It was the Graceland alumni connections and the “big G” community that enabled Keely to move closer toward her career plans in medicine. 

In her sophomore year, Keely found out about the Lilly Internship possibility from classmates who had interned in previous years. She wanted an internship because, no matter what she would choose as her next challenge, it would be a great experience to have on her resume. The Lilly Internship would last 12 weeks during the summer. She started talking about it in September and applied in November of the previous year.

Mike Wiley, PhD ’83 is a Research Fellow at Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis, who has been lining up Lilly lab internships with Graceland students for several years. He mentors students as part of Graceland’s mentoring program, GU4U, and then continues the mentoring through organizing internships. He believes in the Power of Together — the big G extended community and opening doors for Graceland students. Keely stayed in Wiley’s home for the 12-week internship, along with another Graceland intern. Wiley set up lunch meetings with different Lilly scientists and department heads for the students to see multiple opportunities within the business. 

It was a really good experience to learn more about drug discovery and to learn about scientists who are working in current, relevant fields; to learn things that no one else knows about yet. 

“There are very few papers over certain aspects of the research; so the element of discovery was really cool. Everyone who worked in the lab was excited to teach the students coming in for the summer,” explained Keely.

Keely focused on research and design for in vitro assay, meaning a “test-tube” or “plate-based” assay, which is run outside of a living system. “We ran experiments, then optimized and did data analysis while assisting a grad student with his dissertation. We learned that things don’t always go as planned, and that one finding might contradict another. It was exciting to learn how to deal with those contradictions and apply the information to the bigger picture.”

O’Keefe plans to work in research for a year and then go into medicine at OHSU to become an OBGYN or pediatric surgery specialist.

Dr. Ben Yaden, Senior Research Scientist at Lilly Research Laboratories, who worked with Keely commented, “Thanks again for the amazing opportunity to work with yet another outstanding Graceland student. I can’t say enough how impressed I’ve been with every student we’ve had the good fortune of working with from your alma mater.” He went on to say, “the way these students are able to ask quality questions and engage in scientific discussion at this stage of their development ... I’d really like to meet the faculty who are training them!"