Brigham Young University senior Jacob Durrant is a "numbers guy," and not just because he's graduating with a bachelor's degree in mathematics -- add to that a second major in Portuguese and a master's degree in physiology and developmental biology. Divide by five years, multiply by a 4.0 grade point average and subtract time for service.
That equals one remarkable student.
The first person in BYU's physiology and developmental biology department to graduate with undergraduate and graduate degrees in the same semester, Durrant also managed to complete the requirements to graduate with university honors -- he will be a speaker at the honors graduation ceremony Thursday, April 21 at 12 p.m. in the BYU Wilkinson Student Center ballroom.
"I've worked with thousands of bright, talented students over the years, and Jacob stands above them all," says Daniel Fairbanks, a professor of plant and animal sciences and one of Durrant's mentors. "In 16 years at BYU, I've never had another who's as gifted. Design the perfect student, and that's Jacob."
Shortly after returning from a mission to Maceió, Brazil, in 2001 for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Durrant returned to complete a three-month service internship with local doctors in poverty-stricken areas. His volunteer work shaped his desire to meld research and medical interests for greater world impact.
"I've seen a lot of suffering," says Durrant, who was accepted to Harvard and other medical schools but is still deciding where to begin a combined medical and doctoral program in the fall. "I know that one person can't change the world, but if he can make a difference in the lives of just a few, that's worthwhile. So much of the suffering in the developing world is caused by medically related issues. I hope that by combining my Portuguese and scientific backgrounds with future medical training, I'll be able to serve internationally, perhaps in Brazil or other impoverished places."
Durrant's research focus as an undergraduate made his achievements possible and opened the door to a master's degree, says David Busath, the Thomas L. Martin professor of physiology and developmental biology and Durrant's research advisor.
The two of them have worked together since 2002 studying gramicidin, an antibiotic that is used in combination with others to treat inflammation of skin, eyes and ears. As part of Busath's research team, Durrant published one academic paper and has four others in the works.
"Jacob's success speaks to his combination of class work and independent research achievement," Busath says. "This integration allowed Jacob to get all this under his belt. He had so much accomplished as an undergraduate that we accepted him to a one-year master's program."
Durrant's research experience has been the highlight of his BYU experience and has paved the way for him to pursue his long-term goals, he says.
"What I've learned from mentored learning has been as important as my classwork," says Durrant, a National Merit scholar. "BYU mentoring experiences have taught me a lot about how to be a scientist, and I hope medical school will complete that training."
Aside from his academic work, Durrant is an accomplished musician -- he has published arrangements of LDS church hymn for the piano. He was also a finalist in BYU's competitive polka competition.
"I lost to a guy who was brave enough to wear lederhosen," says Durrant.
The whiz-kid's achievements aren't solely due to his intelligence, Fairbanks says, recalling Durrant's desire to take an upper-level genetics courses without first fulfilling the required prerequisites.
"I discouraged him, but Jacob insisted he wanted to do it, and he was the top student in the class," Fairbanks says. "That's just how he is."
Busath similarly credits much of Durrant's success to plain old persistence.
"He's really humble about all this," Busath says. "He never brags. He's just a hard worker."
Even with his rigorous courses of study, Durrant has tried his best to remain focused on the world outside the classroom, he says.
"This probably sounds cliche, but you only get to live once," Durrant says. "You need to find something that's fulfilling. If you get caught up exclusively in your classes, you can forget that life is not just about what's due next week. It's important to maintain a larger perspective while focusing on the narrower goal of education."
This larger perspective, combined with his research experience, dedication and intelligence, has prepared Durrant to make a real-world impact on the medical community, says Fairbanks.
"If you look at the two mottos of BYU, 'The World Is Our Campus' and 'Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve,' Jacob's already done both," Fairbanks says. "His hope in going into medicine is to do the same thing."
Writer: Lexi Allen