Kadi McNew has wanted to go to medical school since she was 8 years old, and with the help of a UNT summer program her goal is within reach.
The 25-year-old, mom of two, is one of eight students who participated this summer in UNT's Howard Hughes Medical Institute Summer Transitions Research Experience. The program is one of two five-week summer programs designed by UNT professors for community college students interested in the sciences.
This is the second summer that McNew has participated in the program, which has inspired her to transfer to UNT to complete her undergraduate degree. McNew decided UNT was the place for her after participating in the UNT-HHMI Summer Transitions Workshop last summer. The program is intended to teach students the fundamental skills needed for conducting biological research while also introducing students to the four-year college experience. Students take campus tours and participate in seminars focused on college preparation and success.
When she began last summer, McNew says the first days of the program's workshop were intimidating since she wasn't familiar with UNT. She had been attending Tarrant County College since January 2010.
"I know TCC like the back of my hand, but UNT was completely foreign to me, and it was hard at first since things work so differently. But the experience gave me the tools to transfer to UNT and successfully become a biology major," McNew says. "After meeting all the professors here and seeing how everyone is so diverse, but still united, I knew I wanted to transfer to UNT."
Students who successfully complete the summer workshop are given priority to participate in the research experience the following year. For McNew's second summer in the program, she is spending 35 hours a week at UNT working with Michael Hedrick, professor of biological sciences. She is helping Hedrick's research team study how well baroreceptors function under stress in three different varieties of frogs. The project appealed to her because of its applications to the medical field.
"Humans have baroreceptors too, so the work in the lab translates to things that might help us in the medical field down the road," McNew says. "At first, working in the lab was intimidating, but I don't do anything without Dr. Hedrick being there. He is a great mentor, and I have already learned so much."
UNT was selected to join the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Science Education Alliance in 2009. The program has allowed the university to offer biology courses that introduce students to cutting-edge research as early as their freshman year. UNT received additional funding for the summer transitions program in 2010. The first groups of students were accepted into the programs last year. This year's program was held June 4 through July 6. All of the participants had the opportunity to present their research to their peers on the final day of the programs.
McNew began her first UNT classes earlier this month when the second summer session began. She plans to graduate from UNT in December 2013, six months earlier than expected. After graduation she hopes to be admitted to a medical school and pursue a dual M.D. and Ph.D. program.
"The UNT-HHMI program has helped me realize how much I really like research and also has given me the tools to further my research," McNew says. "I just want to teach my kids to persevere and to have dreams, and to not let anything stop them from achieving those dreams. I truly believe that if you set your mind to something, then you can do it."
Alyssa Yancey with UNT News Service can be reached at Alyssa.Yancey@unt.edu.