EGF: You were selected for a prestigious internship in the mental health field this summer. What drew you to this career path?
Starting in middle school, I began to fall in love with science and research – pursuing answers to questions, discovering new ideas, and ultimately improving life for people. Both my parents are teachers; growing up I saw the impact they made in so many lives, and I knew I wanted to do the same. As I gained more experience and learned more throughout high school, I became fascinated with the human brain – how something relatively small and fragile completely controls everything about our lives: from our hearts beating and blood pumping, to our thoughts and emotions. What I found most intriguing was how something minute can cause the entire system to go awry. This, combined with my curiosity in research and my desire to help others, paved the way for my current career path.
How did your education in Georgia’s public schools prepare you to pursue your college and career goals?
My education here really enabled me to experiment with other career options, and then follow what I found most interesting. I attended Rockdale Magnet High School, where an emphasis in math, science, and technology was placed. I had the opportunity to conduct my own research involving cellular scaffolding utilizing matrices and yet was nominated for the GA Governor’s Honor Program for literature. I had the unique opportunity to learn computer programming and take through multivariable calculus. Additionally, I had some of the finest history teachers, a subject that up until that point I had struggled with. While I knew in my heart what I wanted to pursue, I was given so many options to study outside that field; giving me the chance to solidify my desire to continue my education in that direction. I felt immensely prepared; even today as I sit among colleagues, I feel much more aware of what I’m learning, and better capable of applying what I have learned across subjects and into my everyday life. Throughout my K-12 education here in Georgia, I have always had immense support from teachers. They have always encouraged me to look into new ideas, research answers on my own, and showed me extracurricular activities that they believed I’d hold interest in. They helped prepare me by teaching me not only subjects in school, but also valuable life skills such as time management. The opportunities presented to me through my public high school allotted the chance for me to prepare for college because of the numerous experiences I was given both in and out of my chosen field of study.
What are a few of the highlights of your educational experience so far? What has been challenging?
In middle school I was given the opportunity to attend a weeklong summer camp that focused on introducing girls to the field of engineering. It was probably the first experience that enabled me to realize that something like that could be an option for me. Once I started high school and was able to research future career paths, and expand my education farther in the direction I wanted, many more experiences presented themselves. I was able to conduct my own research that became internationally recognized and published and was awarded with a trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to present and compete in the international science fair. From there I was able to travel to France to present in a high school and teach their students the methods and importance behind research. Now at UGA I’ve had the chance to work in a lab, spend a summer in Savannah working in a hospital, and study in a field that is rapidly growing in necessity and popularity. That being said, education isn’t something that should be taken for granted nor is it easy. I’ve worked to get where I am, fought and competed for these opportunities. I haven’t won everything I’ve applied for, I’ve struggled in classes, and I work a full-time job. All in all, challenges that present themselves everyday are what pushed me to continue studying what I love. Being at a university with so many other highly qualified individuals, and competing among them for internships and graduate schools is intimidating and can be challenging in its own right. I think today there are so many individuals pursuing higher level education, and that is so wonderful, but it is challenging to find a way to continuously make yourself stand out amongst them. Finding balance between work, school, family, and friends can be challenging as well, but all in all I’ve had fabulous mentors and teachers who I still continue to talk to and catch up with. I have a strong support network and am thankful for the non-stop encouragement.
Did your education in Georgia’s public schools offer an opportunity to gain hands-on career experience? If so, what were those experiences?
Most definitely. In addition to what I have previously mentioned, I was also able to have an internship during my senior year in high school. I worked in an elementary science lab to help expand science to younger children; helping teach them that there is so much more to science than reading and memorizing from a textbook. Additionally, I attended several career fairs and was able to ask questions that allowed me to understand what a typical day would be like in their field. The labs at my high school were as equipped as a college lab and provided me opportunities to immerse myself in my own research and take my education into my own hands. I was able to experiment not only with degenerative diseases and cellular scaffolding, but with what I was truly interested in and what I wanted to study in my future.
What advice would you offer to current Georgia high school students, particularly those who are also interested in working in the mental health field?
I would advise Georgia high school students first and foremost to take their education seriously. We have such a unique and fantastic opportunity here, and it’s not to be taken for granted. Not only are students given a free education; they are also provided the chance for HOPE, and it is incredible. Study hard: making social sacrifices is difficult, and it’s not always ideal, but your education is invaluable and no one can take that away from you. I would also advise seeking guidance – your teachers and counselors have immense knowledge and will be more than willing to help if you ask. They know of numerous opportunities, scholarships, grants, colleges, obscure fields of study that you may not even realize are possibilities for you. Finally I would suggest becoming active in your community. If you’re interested in studying medicine, reach out to local practitioners; if you love writing, contact the local media. People are excited to talk and teach what they’re passionate about. More often than not, you’ll find a professional who is excited by the chance to light a flame in someone who holds similar interests. Seek out people who are working in the fields you’re interested in and they will be able to tell you the good and the bad. They’ll provide you with information that can help you realize what is (or isn’t) the right field for you. Again, I stress utilizing the resources presented to you – your teachers, counselors, and everyone within your school system are invaluable; use them wisely.