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Whitefish-raised UM grad succeeds with molecular biology, marching band

by Dave Kuntz UM News Service
| May 18, 2022 12:00 AM

In the final months of her senior year, University of Montana student Hunter Grimes presented her molecular biology research at a prestigious conference in California.

Grimes played an important role in Dr. Stephen Lodmell’s on-campus research lab for three years, working to identify interactions of the protein RIOK3 with the cellular immune response to viruses like Rift Valley fever – a deadly mosquito-borne virus that spreads among livestock.

But when asked if she could do anything before she graduates this month, Grimes said, “I’d love to run onto the football field with my piccolo one last time.”

In an era when much of society pushes students to choose an exclusive academic path of sciences or the arts, Grimes proudly used her time at UM to prove that practice wrong.

“A lot of students feel pushed to go one way or the other, music or science,” she said while reflecting on her time on campus. “You don’t have to choose a single path. If more students pursued their passions, it would be very beneficial.”

After graduating from Whitefish High School, Grimes applied to more than a dozen universities across the country as she sought to find a home to further her education and interest in biology.

“I think bacteria are cool,” said the microbiology major. “I have always found the interaction between bacteria and humans interesting.”

But when it came time to choose the college where she would study that bacteria, one factor stood out above all else: the university had to have a marching band.

And after being offered a scholarship by UM’s Davidson Honors College, she packed up and made the journey down Highway 93 to her new home at UM, where she pursued two paths as a scientist and musician.

In Lodmell’s research lab, Grimes thrived right away and was even honored at the conclusion of her first year for her exceptional performance in a chemistry course.

Lodmell himself noted that Grimes will leave a lasting impression within his department.

“Hunter is doing advanced research related to virology and cellular immunology in my lab, has presented her work at regional and national meetings and already is a co-author on a peer-reviewed research article,” he said. “She has been steadfast and passionate about her research, regularly devoting many hours per week to the cause.”

Grimes credits faculty members like Lodmell, and the unique opportunities made available through the Davidson Honors College, for providing her world-class research opportunities at UM – something she doesn’t believe she would have received anywhere else. In fact, the Davidson Honors College furnished the funds Grimes needed to present her research in California earlier this year.

“I couldn’t have found an environment that was more supportive,” she said. “So many people at UM are invested in my career and my research.”

While she thrived in the classroom and the research lab, it was the marching band that provided her the energy to power through some of her more challenging academic courses.

“The marching band is my second family,” she said. “It is where I have my best memories from college, and it is where I experienced my best moments.”

Grimes’ high school did not have a marching band, but once she joined the Grizzly Marching Band, she knew she had found something special.

“Hunter was a positive influence on those around her,” said Kevin Griggs, UM associate director of bands and the director of athletic bands. “She was accepting and friendly to everyone and set an example of hard work, kindness and positivity that made the band a better experience for everyone she encountered. Her love of music and support for UM – and all things Griz – were apparent in her dedication and leadership.”

When asked to choose her favorite memory while in the Grizzly Marching Band, Grimes is quick to respond, “Winning the Griz-Cat game last fall.” But then she immediately pivoted to an anecdote about a little-known Brawl of the Wild tradition.

“The Grizzly and Bobcat piccolo sections always exchange cookies,” she said with a smile, revealing a hidden bond with her woodwind counterparts across the Continental Divide.

It is experiences like these that Grimes is going to miss the most as she walks across the Commencement stage, but she already looks forward to joining UM’s Alumni Band in the years ahead.

Grimes is preparing to apply to medical school next year, and as she reflects on her time at UM, she is grateful for the unique opportunity to pursue her two loves, science and music. In fact, she feels strongly that her time in the marching band complimented her work in the research lab.

When prompted, Grimes’ parting advice for future Grizzlies reflects her own journey at UM:

“The best thing I’ve done in college is the marching band. Every student at UM can find something like that. UM is the one college I looked at where there is truly something for everyone, so go out there and find your marching band.”

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