As a child, Brandon Ellsworth discovered his drive to help others live healthy lives as he watched his mother, Tammy, grapple with diabetes.

He is looking forward to medical school and a career as a health professional after he graduates from Hope College and finishes playing football for the Flying Dutchmen.

Ellsworth, a first generation student from Webberville, Michigan and Fowlerville High School, is a biology major.

“My passion in medicine started in high school,” Ellsworth said. “It started with my want to help people with medicine. I had a really sick mom growing up, and she still is sick. She’s been a big influence.”

Tammy Ellsworth recently got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She has dealt with a lifetime of issues, including complications from diabetes that was not treated properly.

Ellsworth plans to apply to medical schools this summer. He plans to walk at graduation next month, but return next semester for a few more credits and the opportunity to play football.

Last fall, Ellsworth played defensive line on the Flying Dutchmen football team that posted a 7-3 record for the biggest single-season turnaround in the team’s 108 years.

As a junior at Hope, Ellsworth joined teammate Aaron O’Meara and faculty member Dr. Gerald Griffin in receiving Hope College’s annual “Social Sciences Young Investigators Award” for a collaborative faculty-student research project connected to Alzheimer’s disease.

The team was honored for investigating the normal functioning of the peptide amyloid beta, which has been found in elevated levels as a plaque in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The research project considered whether or not amyloid beta helps reduce microbes that can invade the central nervous system. They tested its effect on Salmonella enterica, finding that the 1-42 isoform of amyloid beta did combat the growth of the bacterium.

Griffin emphasized last May that it is premature to draw a direct line from the study’s results to the development of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

“Our results support other results out there that show that this peptide has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties,” Griffin said.  “We want to be careful about generalizing or the conclusions that we draw.  All we can state right now is that the peptide kills salmonella in our conditions.”

“I didn’t know about the award. I just remember we were putting in a ton of work,” Ellsworth said. “It was during football when we did most of our research in 2015, this consumed most of our Sundays.

Opportunities like researching Alzheimer’s research and working with professors are among the reasons Ellsworth chose to come to Hope College and make the personal sacrifices to do so.

“I get a lot of one-on-one interactions here, which is really hard at big schools. If you want to participate in research with a professors at a big school, you usually have to work 40 hours a week to even get a chance to talk to a professor. Usually, you’re talking with a graduate assistant.

“The connections I’ve built here, they’re life-long mentors. I can come to them with not only questions about school but life, scheduling, anything really which has been really helpful.”

A connection with a Hope College alum led Ellsworth to Hope in the first place.

Ellsworth said 1999 Hope College graduate, a Fowlerville coach and teacher, inspired him.

“I grew up in a poor area. I didn’t know anyone who went to college,” Ellsworth said. “Part me was ‘How do I do this? I knew I wanted to be a health care professional, but didn’t know how.

“Coach Hackett got me interested in playing football. I realized football was my way to get into college. Hope was the place that showed interest in me as a football player, and I was interested in them. The reason I came here was because of the sciences.”

After studying for one year at Lansing Community College, Ellsworth enrolled at Hope. He has worked several jobs to help pay for college.

Ellsworth’s dedication has paid off. He made the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Academic Honor Roll for the first time during the 2015-16 school year. He played in nine games last season for the football team.

Juggling everything in his schedule while still caring for his family is taxing at times. Although, Ellsworth takes a healthy approach to this.

“I still have a balanced life,” he said. “I go out with my friends. I’m not studying all day. I still try to do something fun throughout the day. Then at the end of the day, I write in my notes what I want to do get done the next day. But, making sure you have balance is important.”