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Prompted by Pandemic Impediments

The Payoffs of Proactivity

When Honors student Emilee Carr’s research expedition to India was cancelled, she could have been immobilized by uncertainty. Instead, she used this unique opportunity to connect with BYU students in a profound and far-reaching way.

Emilee has been zealous about her field of work and study from a very young age. However, she faced opposition as her interests in science developed. Comments from trusted individuals warning her that in becoming an HIV researcher and physician, she would be “dishonoring [her] role as a future mother,” and that she would be “divorced and unhappy like all the other doctors,” were major deterrents for her. It was only in connecting with a flourishing PhD candidate and mother of two at a conference that ultimately changed her worldview and helped her secure confidence in herself and her ability to study the topics she was so passionate about.

This interaction was monumental in influencing her response to the effects of the pandemic on her research trip this summer. When she could no longer travel to India to study bacteriophages in the River Ganges, she wondered what she could do. Emilee reflected on her academic career, on the impacts that others have made in her educational journey, and especially on the alarming underrepresentation of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. At BYU, the rate of female representation is 26%, while Utah overall boasts only 19% female representation in these departments.

After some reflection, she chose to ACT. She applied to the Honors Fellowships Projects Program and received the opportunity to create a “Women in STEM Peer Mentorship Program,” for the BYU Honors Program. In short, the program connects students interested in STEM fields to more experienced, female Honors students in those fields to help guide, encourage, and navigate those majors here at BYU. Emilee’s initiative saw rapid success as 23 girls signed up on day one, with enrollment climbing consistently as awareness has spread through the Honors Program. Peer mentors across the board are thrilled at the opportunity to connect with their mentees, and mentors and mentees alike are thrilled to connect with and to empower one another as well as “to see that their professional dreams and career goals are valid and attainable,” Emilee says.

Emilee’s punctuality in pursuing a replacement project this summer was crucial to hers and the STEM Mentorship Program’s success. She stated that she “strongly believe[s] in beginning before you are ready.” Her advice to all Honors Students is to “apply for that grant, that program, that scholarship, that anything; because the worst that could happen is hearing a “no,” and the best is unimaginable opportunity.”

Emilee and her work this summer epitomize the Program’s theme this year to ACT-- that is, to Adapt, Connect, and Transcend. While Emilee actively adapted her plans for her summer to benefit female STEM majors, the program itself seeks to connect younger students to older students that have been in their shoes. Most significantly, the STEM Mentorship Program enables female STEM students to surpass the limits placed on them by doubters, skeptics, and cynics alike. This transcendent program will empower students for years to come, far beyond the prevalence of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Beyond her personal accolades in the fields of biology and chemistry, Emilee has shown commendable consistency in supporting others’ paths to academic inspiration and success, especially in STEM fields. She founded BYU’s branch of the American Medical Women's Association (AMWA), and loves her job as a Teaching Assistant where she teaches students to isolate and name their own viruses! Whether Emilee’s work is focused on her fellow Honors Students or on alleviating the suffering of those affected by the AIDS epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa, her impact on both a BYU and global scale is undeniable.

Emilee is an aspiring HIV physician, pursuing a major in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. She is highly accomplished in her field, having received the 2019 title of University Accessibility Center's Volunteer of the Year, is this year’s Grant Recipient of the Life Sciences CURA Grant, and has been a member of the College of Life Sciences Dean's List since 2018. She is also a published researcher of her analysis of Pseudomonas phage vB_PaeP_TF17, the complete genome, and has presented her research on bacteriophages in sewage at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute campus in Ashburn, Virginia.

Emilee credits the Honors Program for their invaluable support of her and her endeavors. She says the Unexpected Connections courses encouraged her interdisciplinary thinking and fostered learning in other topics that interested her beyond her major courses. She especially enjoyed learning about the geography of the Western United States, Russian Literature, and red dwarf planets! These experiences, together with support from academic advisors like Vika Filimoeatu, altered Emilee’s perspective of her BYU experience and of herself. Of the Honors advisors, Emilee said, “In a large university like BYU, I felt like a little fish in a big pond but that day and many days since, Vika and the Honors advisors have made me feel like the catch of the day.” Emilee added that the Honors Program office consistently helps students to recognize their potential and feel like a “catch of the day,” every day.

Despite all that Emilee has achieved, she isn’t stopping here! She is working on a grant to create a phage therapy (cure) for a patient with an antibiotic resistant Serratia marcescens infection. Furthermore, as an HSLC (Honors Student Leadership Council) member, she is creating a service campaign highlighting the positive measures countries are taking to raise wellness in the uncertain climate that COVID-19 has created for us both internationally and individually. This campaign will begin on September 28th, mark your calendars! If you are interested in participating in the Honors Women in STEM project, email honors@byu.edu for more information.