Everyone who knows Lucas Suazo brags about Lucas Suazo – except Lucas Suazo. He’s a Boettcher Scholar, a President’s Leadership Program Scholar, an Honors Program student, a researcher, an athlete, and a leader. And he does it all while managing Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract.

“Lucas is the type of person who has a good heart and a good soul,” said Deanna Leone, director of the President’s Leadership Program at CSU. “He is a quiet and sincere leader who doesn’t like to draw attention to himself. He seeks to understand others’ perspectives, and wants to grow in ways that push him safely out of his comfort zone.”

Research and academics

As a Boettcher Scholar, the Fort Collins High School graduate had his pick of Colorado schools. Currently sporting a 3.967 GPA, Lucas will graduate in spring 2016 as part of CSU’s dual-degree program in Chemical and Biological Engineering and Biomedical Engineering.

“When I was deciding on a major, I saw that CSU was offering chemical engineering and biomedical engineering,” he said. “So I thought to myself, ‘Well, geez, Lucas, you have to do this. This is the perfect combination of chemistry, math, physics, science, and medicine, and that’s what you want to do.’”

From the moment he arrived at CSU, Lucas has been making an impact.

As a freshman, Lucas worked in the lab with Melissa Reynolds, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Boettcher Investigator, as part of the Honors Undergraduate Research Scholars program. Funded by the Department of Defense, the researchers sought to design a bandage that could promote healing as well as prevent scarring and infection.

This semester, Lucas is working in the lab with Brian Munsky, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. The research uses computational analyses to predict how and why certain cells transform and lead to auto-immune-related diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes and Crohn’s disease.

“In June, he started to learn the tools of the trade,” Munsky said. “I gave him a mathematical problem that I typically discuss with graduate students. In short time and without much help from me, he solved the problem and converted its solution into a computer program that simulates trajectories of complex biochemical reactions. I was very impressed; I’ve not managed to find many students who can do that – particularly as an undergraduate student.”

Lucas also shares his knowledge in the classroom, embracing the mission and vision of the state’s land-grant university.

“I’d often see him at the white board in front of other students, leading attempts to solve hard problems, while encouraging others to contribute and learn alongside him,” said Munsky.

“He is able to take things to the next level, and does it so humbly and graciously that you might not quite see the elevation… and then you realize it and just smile,” said Brett Beal, Lucas’s biomedical engineering advisor. “That’s the Lucas Suazo Factor.”

Dedicated to the community

In addition to his rigorous academic and research schedule, Lucas is a President’s Leadership Program Scholar and volunteers at the Poudre Valley Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and the Harmony Urgent Care – all factors that led to him being named the Denver Metro Chamber’s 2015 Student Leader of the Year.

PLP Scholars are a select group of students who participate in enriched leadership development experiences through their time at CSU. In addition to the three courses the students take as part of the traditional PLP, scholars attend small group discussions and participate in service experiences as well as an international leadership experience.

In his first year, Lucas and a few of his fellow PLP scholars partnered with the Little Shop of Physics to design and implement a science day for La Familia, a bilingual organization focused on maintaining and enhancing the quality of life for working families in Larimer County.

“As a kid growing up here in Fort Collins, I always loved the Little Shop of Physics,” Lucas said. “I wanted to bring Little Shop to these students and show them how cool science could really be.”

His second year, he traveled to China, where he attended Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University and East China Normal University, learning the importance of being a leader and how it is defined in other cultures.

“One student in particular got to me, because we were paired on the one-on-one tour at ECNU,” said Lucas. “We were collecting our thoughts after the tour, and I asked her if she could ever consider herself to be a leader, and she said ‘no.’ That really hit me; no one ever says ‘no’; everybody says ‘yes.’ So I asked her, ‘Why do you think you can’t be a leader?’ And she said, ‘Leadership is only for the high-ranking officials that make all the rules for China to follow.’ That was a powerful moment for me just to see that difference in how leadership is viewed.”

“The third year of PLP was one of the most powerful years for me just because, as a freshman – and everybody probably goes through this at some point – I wanted to change the world,” Lucas added. “I had an idea of how the world should be, and I wanted to make it perfect. At some point in your adult life you realize you don’t have the power to change all of the problems. But then through PLP, I began to realize, ‘No, no, you need to really change how you’re thinking about this, because you’re not supposed to change the whole world. You are supposed to change the world in whatever way you can – even in the littlest way; if you can change the world in that way today then that’s enough – that’s more than enough.’”

“That, to me, is one of the great messages of PLP – that we can’t change the world as individuals completely, but through PLP we’ll develop all of these leaders, and eventually, with enough people thinking this way, the whole world will be better.”

His campus mentors also noted a change in Lucas after the trip to China.

“He’s had this transformation in not only how he sees himself, but also in how he sees his leadership,” said Leone.

In his spare time, Lucas plays soccer, does CrossFit, is a member of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity, has volunteered in field clinics for underserved Nicaraguan communities, and serves as a mentor to first-year students managing chronic illnesses as part of ASCSU’s Chronic Health Mentoring Program.

“I received an email saying that ASCSU was going to start this new program called the Chronic Health Mentoring Program, and they were looking for mentors. I just knew I had to sign up,” he said. “This is literally what I would have needed and wanted at the time when I was going through this.”

Managing Crohn’s

The summer between Lucas’s first and second year of college, Crohn’s disease crowded its way into his already-busy life.

“I didn’t know it was Crohn’s disease at the time – I just thought I ate something bad that day,” he said. “After two weeks of constant abdominal pain, I realized it couldn’t be just a case of food poisoning.”

The discomfort was absolutely unbearable.

“It was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt in my life. It was constant, 24/7… I couldn’t fall asleep because the pain kept me up all night, and I just wanted answers,” he said.

“Eventually, after a month of just going from doctor to doctor trying to figure everything out, I had lost about 30 pounds, and my mom was freaking out. I hadn’t eaten in about four weeks, so I asked my mom, ‘If I check myself into the ER, they have an IV drip where they can supply me with food, right?’ She was like, ‘Yeah, I guess.’ And so I said, ‘Please take me to the ER.’”

While at the ER, Lucas was diagnosed with Crohn’s – an incurable disease that changed his life indefinitely.

“Not knowing what it was was very scary for me and my family,” he said. “Literally, the options on the table were Crohn’s disease, lymphoma, and a strange case of mono. It was pretty scary.

“It was pretty life-altering being told you have this auto-immune condition where your body is attacking your own intestines. And you know, I was a perfectly healthy kid for my entire life – I’d played soccer; soccer was my life.”

“My parents were always there to help me out – I couldn’t have done it without them. I know that if it hadn’t been for my parents and my support system and the doctors along the way that I wouldn’t be in college today,” he said.

What lies ahead?

Having Crohn’s made Lucas realize he wanted to go to medical school.

“For me, I love science, I love math, I love biology, but going into a chemical engineering industry job or research job – while very helpful to society and a very impressive path to pursue, it just wasn’t the path that I wanted to go down anymore,” he said. “I wanted to go down a path where I could be on the front lines of helping people going through the same thing that I went through.

“I wanted to be there when someone’s body failed them for no good reason and their dream is in jeopardy. I want to be the one that helps them through that.”

Lucas, who has already taken the Medical College Admission Test, is hoping to attend a prestigious medical school like Harvard, Stanford, or University of California-San Francisco.

“He’s so humble, and so accomplished, and does so much so well,” said Beal. “There’s no question in my mind he will change the world.”