ORU cancer researcher follows God’s path instead of his own

William Ranahan, chair of the Biology and Chemistry Department at Oral Roberts University, explains research results to biology lab manager Diego de la Torre.

Elizabeth McCullough, Staff Writer

Sweeping the floor at work inside the Manchester Country Club in Bedford, New Hampshire, then-18-year-old William Ranahan felt something warm pour over his back.
“I freaked out,” Ranahan remembered recently, “because I was supposed to be alone. I shot straight up. It was like I suddenly stepped into a wind tunnel. But instead of air coming past me, it was voices telling me things about my life.”
Ranahan planned to join the military. But God spoke to him that day in 1998 and told him to go to Oral Roberts University, get a bachelor’s degree in biology and then a Ph.D. in molecular genetics.
“I grew up on a farm,” Ranahan said. “We were not a higher education family. Nobody had gone to college or knew anything about it. So, I thought this was quite an ask.”
Obediently, Ranahan moved to Tulsa, where he got his bachelor’s in biology at ORU in 2005. Ranahan then moved to Indiana to work as a research technician and joined the Ph.D. biochemistry and molecular biology program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
His advisor told him to focus on working as a technician instead of studying for the first exam of graduate school. Ranahan made a 26%.
“My wife and I were expecting our first child,” Ranahan said. “It was not a good time to fail. I told God he was going to have to save me because I had blown it.”
By trusting God to help him, he quickly became a star student, Ranahan said. He published research, pioneered new techniques and won Outstanding Student of the Year.
Ranahan worked for two years to persuade Dr. Mina Bissel, a renowned biologist, to speak to the IUPUI Ph.D. program. She finally agreed, and his research lab was scheduled to host her.
The encounter might have made his career, Ranahan said. But he heard about a job opening at ORU.
He and his wife had no intention of moving back to Oklahoma, but after praying they felt called to apply for the position. The interview, however, was scheduled for the same day as Bissel’s visit.
Ranahan went to the job interview at ORU, believing he was giving up his career in research for a teaching career he had never planned.
Ranahan completed his Ph.D. program and took the job as a professor at ORU in 2013.
“While Dr. Ranahan is employed as a professor, he goes above that daily to be a mentor for numerous students.” said Diego de la Torre, the biology lab manager. “A student is not a number to him but a child of God who has their whole life ahead.”
Ranahan never expected to become a professor, but he quickly realized he has a passion and a gift for teaching.
“I absolutely love teaching,” said Ranahan. “My favorite part is the relationships I get to make with my students. It is so fun to help them get into position to be successful.”
In the spring semester of his third year teaching at ORU, Ranahan got an idea for a new research project. A team of ORU undergraduate students found a mushroom that will destroy cancer cells without harming non-cancer cells.
To read more about his breakthrough in cancer research, check out Cancer research reveals ‘God showing off,’ ORU professor says

Ranahan now serves as the chair of ORU’s Biology and Chemistry Department and continues his work in cancer research.
He uses his career journey to convince students to trust God’s plan.
“You’re not powerful enough to ruin God’s plan for your life,” Ranahan tells his classes.