Friday, July 15, 2016

Hear It From a Girl Scout: "There's No Such Thing As Ready"

In collaboration with Alcoa Foundation, Girl Scouts of the USA has provided eight Girl Scouts since 2013 with the Alcoa Chuck McLane Scholarship, which is available to Gold Award recipients who complete Gold Award projects related to science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). Morgan Ferone of Girl Scouts, Hornet's Nest Council received the Alcoa Chuck McLane Scholarship in 2014. Morgan is attending University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is studying Biology, Religious Studies, and Chemistry. 

What have you been up to, and how are your college STEM studies going?
When I first came to the University of North Carolina I didn’t know what I was going to major in, what my goals were, or what my extracurricular activities would be, and I could have never imagined I would end up where I am today. I started my career at UNC with a bit of a “STEM sampler”—my freshman year consisted of calculus, physics, chemistry, biology, and even geology, and this allowed me to discover which subjects made me the most curious, the most energized. I trusted my gut and declared a biology major with a minor in chemistry as well as a  major in religious studies, and I have not regretted that decision once, even as the more challenging coursework began to roll in.

As a sophomore, more comfortable in my own skin and on campus, I began to discover the wealth of opportunities available at UNC—I took a class on HIV/AIDS through the school of public health; I was accepted to a class in the nursing school for next fall to train as a doula; I attended the 37th Annual Minority Health Conference; I will be a delegate at the American Mock World Health Organization conference this fall; and I traveled with Global Medical Training to Nicaragua for a medical service spring break. And these are just a few of the exciting things this past year has entailed and that I have to look forward to in the fall.

After succeeding in my molecular biology and genetics class last fall, I was invited by my professor to be a mentor for the class in the spring. When my enthusiasm for teaching became apparent, I was asked to move into an even more significant teaching/tutoring role for a cell and developmental biology class in the upcoming semester as a supplemental instructor. But the most significant development of the year was that I joined a research lab, where I worked for course credit in the spring semester and am now a part-time summer employee. Working in a research lab has been one of the most challenging but also most fulfilling things I have done since coming to UNC. Engaging with the process of science outside of the classroom, where I have seen concepts I read in a textbook applied to real experiments, has been an incredible experience. I have been fortunate enough to have brilliant (and patient) mentors in the lab who have helped me to develop the critical, creative, inquisitive mindset of a scientist, as well as the technical skills required to perform experiments. I now have a true appreciation and passion for the hard work of basic science that is so often taken for granted.

It has been an amazing, wild ride these first two years, and I am excited to see what the next two have in store!

What challenges have you faced, and how did you overcome them? 
A major challenge that I faced when I came to UNC was my own ignorance about all the options available to me there. For example, I had not even heard of the school of public health until my sophomore year when it was almost too late to apply, and although I’m happy with the course I’m on, I regret not broadening my scope and giving myself the opportunity to at least consider whether it would be something I would be interested in. I think most high schools leave students with a limited mindset about the options available to them at a university; after studying subjects like “math,” “English,” “physics,” “biology” for so many years, it was hard for me to realize that there were majors out there like biomechanical engineering, exercise and sports science, health policy and management, nutrition science, and on and on. Overcoming this limiting perspective took time, and it helped to talk with professors and older students and to take advantage of information sessions and other events on campus, such as  the Minority Health Conference which I attended. This allowed me to see the diversity of academic pursuits and even the diversity of careers within one field. It was so important for me to engage with events on campus and to not be afraid to talk to the older girls in my sorority or go to office hours because that was how I broadened my perspective and became aware of the incredible things going on around me.

The other challenge that I faced was securing my research position. Although I didn’t start working in the lab until January of my sophomore year, I realized I wanted to do so in my freshman year—but there was a lot of work required to find labs, contact principal investigators, find a sponsor within the biology department, figure out the mountain of paperwork, and, then, eventually get started working at a place where I had absolutely no experience. The moral of the story is, this great job didn’t just fall into my lap—I had to put in a lot of work to make it happen and, if at any time I had stopped putting in that effort, it wouldn’t have come through. College is so fun, with so many cool things to do and great new friends to make that the real challenge is overcoming the inertia of “the way things are” in favor of making “the way things could be” a reality. The truly great adventures and experiences don’t just happen themselves; the challenge every student faces is not to let their college years consist of school, friends, and Netflix, but to realize and actualize the potential for so much more.

Looking back, how has Girl Scouts and the Alcoa Chuck McLane Scholarship impacted your college experience? 
It’s very difficult to write concisely what Girl Scouts has given me; it has been such a significant part of my life that it has truly impacted me in every meaningful way, now in college and, surely, after I graduate as well. The best way to describe the impact of Girl Scouting on my life is clichéd, but true: it has given me courage, confidence, and character. My experience as a Girl Scout has given me the courage to pursue incredible opportunities and experiences in the face of uncertainty or fear. So much of my self-confidence today is grounded upon accomplishments I achieved through Girl Scouting. Earning my Gold Award, for example, gives me the confidence to take on other projects, and  the many public speaking opportunities I had through Girl Scouting are the foundation for my confidence in front of an audience now. And, of course, the values that Girl Scouting aims to instill in its members—to serve God and country, to help people at all times—are central to the core of my character, thanks to experiences in Girl Scouting over the years. The Alcoa Chuck McLane Scholarship has had a positive impact on my college experience in different ways. First, it afforded me the opportunity to go to Girl Scout National Convention during my first semester as a freshman, which was an incredible and inspiring event. Although the financial aid has allowed me the freedom to pursue other opportunities, like a medical service spring break trip, being awarded a scholarship means so much more to me than just money, because it is a vote of confidence in me from Alcoa, an endorsement of sorts. And the investment Alcoa has made in me encourages me to invest further in myself, leading me to expect more from myself, to push myself, and to never settle.

Amber Barron and Morgan Ferone - 2014 Alcoa Chuck McLane Scholarship Winners.
Hear Amber's story!

How do you take the lead?
I take the lead in my life by doing things that scare me. One of my favorite quotes is by Hugh Laurie (one of my favorite actors), and it is something I remind myself of regularly:

“It's a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you're ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”

I am the sort of person who likes to prepare, who likes to plan, who likes to make fully informed decisions, and, while I don’t think that these are bad traits, I think they can sometimes, if I let them, hold me back from doing great things that may require a little risk. The idea that there is “no such thing as ready,” isn’t an excuse to live recklessly, but a mantra that reminds me that I have to start somewhere to get anywhere. I was terrified to go work in a research lab, I had no experience, no idea what to expect, no friends to turn to for advice—I didn’t feel “ready,” but I went for it in spite of that and the reward for that risk has been incredible. I was nervous to apply to the nursing course where I’ll train to be a doula because I wasn’t sure if I was perfectly fit or exactly qualified or if it was the right time in my life. And I’m honestly still scared about what that course has in store for me, what it will mean to be a doula, but if I waited until I thought I was “ready” I’d probably be waiting forever. I take the lead in my life by simply taking it, even when it’s scary, even when I’m not ready.