Amazing Students

Madison Miracle

As a future doctor, Madison Miracle believes that medicine can be used as an agent of change, and she’s already put that belief into practice through volunteer work and study abroad. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the senior majoring in biology and psychology.

Hometown:

Woodstock, GA

High School:

Etowah High School

Degree objective:

B.S. in biology and psychology

Other degrees:

Spanish minor

Expected graduation:

May 2017

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

Throughout my time here, I have been able to take part in the diversity of opportunities for involvement in the UGA and Athens communities. Setting foot onto campus freshman year, I was excited for all the possibilities that lay before me in my next few years. I saw so many organizations that I wanted to join and things to take part in, and I am thankful for this place that has allowed me to do just that.

I LOVE animals, and ever since high school I had wanted to help train service dogs (I even tried to raise one for my senior project but that idea was sadly turned down by my parents). Seeing puppies walking around campus during my tour may or may not be part of the reason why I chose to attend UGA. Once becoming a student, I began the process of becoming a volunteer with the Guide Dog Foundation, and being a buddy/camper has been so rewarding in giving me insight into the importance of the program in improving the lives of the visually impaired and disabled.

I also have been able to continue my high school love of Relay For Life. As a freshman, I was the sponsorship chair of Team Laura, a team founded by Sam Olson, a friend from my high school, to honor her best friend Laura’s battle with cancer. When Sam graduated at the end of my freshman year, I was asked to take over the team as president, and it has been a privilege to continue to fight for my own family members who have had cancer as well as carry on the legacy of Laura.

Each year, I have been blessed by my involvement with the Wesley Foundation as a Freshley Student, a Freshley Prayer Leader and as a Peacemakers Leader. Peacemakers is a ministry that works to empower Christian students to engage with, love and serve the Muslim community of Athens, and through this, I have loved visiting the Al-Huda mosque and getting to know my Muslim peers. In fact, one of my favorite experiences at UGA has been praying alongside students from Peacemakers, the Catholic Center and the Muslim Student Association at a vigil we held for the victims of the Paris and Lebanon terrorist attacks.

The summer after my sophomore year, I was awarded a scholarship from the Honors International Scholar Program to study abroad and volunteer in Peru. As a part of the UGA en España Peru Medical Maymester, I learned medical Spanish while observing physicians in the Peruvian hospitals. One of the coolest things about this program was the fact that we were able to explore all the different parts of Peru — from the Andes Mountains and Machu Picchu to the desert lowlands and northwestern coast all the way to the Amazon jungle. After the program, I stayed behind to volunteer with the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children in Huancayo. I chose to work with FIMRC for its mission of establishing sustainable health care for and relationships with the communities they serve around the world, and it was awesome to take part in providing care and health education for the people of the rural communities we worked in. As one of the only Spanish-speaking volunteers, I had fun running back and forth as a translator!

After coming back from Peru, I began volunteering at Mercy Health Center, a free clinic for the uninsured where I currently serve in triage as a certified nursing assistant. In taking patient vitals and talking with them about their conditions and medications, I have been able to experience the diversity of our Athens community and see the importance of medicine in caring for the underserved — a definite highlight of my time in Athens. I also began working as an undergraduate research assistant in professor Ralph Tripp’s lab, where I investigated the role of microRNAs in affecting gene expression in the Respiratory Syncytial Virus and presented my findings at the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities Symposium and the annual Department of Infectious Diseases retreat.

During my freshman spring break, I went on a mission trip to Jamaica with the Wesley Foundation and returned as a sophomore to lead a small group of freshman girls and do work such as painting schools and assisting in the construction of a church building. My freshman year, we were able to build an entire house (granted, it was small) for a homeless woman and her family. Junior year, I went on an environmental awareness service-learning trip to Fort Myers, Florida, with UGA IMPACT. A lover of nature, I took pleasure in shoveling through the ground to uproot the pernicious Melaleuca and crawling through the thickets to collect Styrofoam, but I most enjoyed learning the importance of sustainability in purposeful service and getting to know fellow students who I would probably have never met had I gone elsewhere for spring break.

I am also a member (and race director) of the UGA triathlon team. Being a triathlete has allowed me to ride past miles of farmland with Athens retirees, race with peers from across the country, strength train alongside bodybuilders, talk with a homeless man while waiting at a crosswalk on a run, and become friends with teammates with engineering aspirations and passion for the piano. It is getting to know some really incredible people around our community even more so than the experiences themselves that has made my time at UGA so worthwhile.

Family Ties to UGA:

I am the first in my family to attend UGA; however, my grandmother has lived in Athens for over 30 years, so I have grown up coming to visit her here. She definitely makes Athens feel more like home!

I chose to attend UGA because…

… I was drawn to the smaller community feel offered by UGA’s Honors Program that existed among a large university’s wide array of opportunities for involvement, growth and the pursuit of all kinds of interests. This has held true, and I love the diversity of people who attend and work at UGA and that I can always find others who share common passions. The Zell Miller Scholarship was also an invaluable offer I could not turn down.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

… swim, bike and run! I love training with teammates in our runs through the intramural fields, and you can often find me at the Ramsey Center. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of a nice hot shower there after a good swim or a nice warm-down after running some 400s at the Spec Towns track in the early morning hours.

When I have free time, I like…

… being outside and being active. Hiking and yoga are some of my favorites, and I love exploring while on walks through my neighborhood and around town. I enjoy woodworking and crafting and am always excited to find an old piece of furniture or miscellaneous item that I can revitalize or build with. I also like to cook, especially with fresh fruits and vegetables from the Athens Farmers Market!

The craziest thing I've done is…

… travel alone through Peru for 36 hours — twice. After studying abroad with UGA’s Peru Medical Maymester, I had to say goodbye to my classmates in the Lima airport before embarking on the journey to Huancayo, a city deep within the Andes Mountains where I had committed to volunteer with FIMRC. I spent the night in Lima before being picked up by a taxi driver who took me to a bus station, where I waited to board a two-story bus that would take me nine hours through the winding, narrow mountainous roads. A few hours into the bus ride, we were delayed by a semi-truck that had crashed and sprawled partially off the mountain, an unfortunately not uncommon fate for buses as well. With a non-functioning cellphone and 60 soles (about $20), I prayed that the FIMRC coordinator who I had communicated with only a few times via email would actually be there to meet me at the Huancayo bus station. I did arrive, but I still had the same trek back after the two weeks spent as a volunteer there, and I had to hope yet again that there would not be another crashed semi-truck or a driver strike to delay my travels and cause me to miss my flight. Thankfully, the ride back went more smoothly, and I arrived on time to take another taxi back to the Lima airport, where I had to wait for six hours before departing on the journey back to Miami before finally landing at home in Atlanta.

My favorite place to study is…

… the outside patio at Earth Fare (especially in the spring!). I love being outdoors and able to see people pass by, watch squirrels rustling around and hear the birds chirping. Plus, it’s not uncommon that people will come outside to eat and bring their dogs along, so I usually have some furry company! I also love the tables and area outside the UGA Creamery; it’s beautiful when all the plants are green and in bloom.

My favorite professor is…

… that’s a tough one to decide between, so I will have to say both —Karl Espelie and Paula Lemons. I was introduced to Dr. Espelie the summer before beginning my freshman year, and having gotten to know him these past years, I cannot speak more highly of how he cares for us students. From spending hours in advising appointments to answering countless phone calls and emails to writing who knows how many recommendation letters, he is unbroken in his willingness to help each and every student who comes his way. There is no advisor with greater wisdom than he, and it is not hard to tell how respected he is by the array of accomplished guests who volunteer year after year to speak in his seminar class. I would not be where I am today without him, and I am forever indebted to the charming, witty and kind man that is Karl Espelie.

As a sophomore, I started going to a science and faith Bible study led by Dr. Lemons. Although I was the youngest member and the only one she hadn’t previously taught, Dr. Lemons readily welcomed my presence and made me feel as though I belonged. Having always struggled to connect the evidence of science and my own spiritual beliefs, this Bible study has been transformative in bringing harmony to my perceptions of these two passions. However, I have most enjoyed spending time with our little group and getting to know our fearless leader. A wise, down-to-earth and kind woman, she cares deeply for those around her, and her sincerity is evident in her research and the way she teaches her biochemistry class. From being welcomed into her home to simply being prayed for, it has been an honor to know such a strong professor, mother, mentor and example of grace.

I have also been privileged to work under professor Ralph Tripp and with Abhijeet Bakre in doing research in the Department of Infectious Diseases. Despite being a world-renowned scientist himself, Dr. Tripp does not forget the “little people” in the field of research — undergraduates. Generous in providing opportunities for those interested, his support is instrumental in helping students achieve success and follow their passions. I am also grateful to Dr. Bakre. Incredibly passionate about his work, he has constantly challenged me to grow as a learner, pursue my curiosities and reach my highest potential. Plus, I can’t forget to thank him for his patience in teaching me our lab techniques!

Elizabeth Sears has also been a huge blessing as a source of professional advice, particularly for the medical school application process. She is incredibly thoughtful and always more than willing to offer guidance (and doing so with smiling enthusiasm). She is known by many students, and her presence in the Honors Program is invaluable.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

… Jack Johnson. He is not only a talented musician and surfer but also a great father and a generous and inspiring environmentalist. Not many people know this, but the majority of his show proceeds goes to the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation and Kokua Hawaii Foundation to support sustainable food and environmental initiatives and marine conservation. I’d love to spend an afternoon on Hawaii’s beautiful islands surfing with him and learning how he lives an eco-friendly life. And I’d hope that he would play a few of my favorite songs too!

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

… create peace among the world and its inhabitants. I would show everyone their value and empower people to pursue their dreams. I would create a process for recycling all materials so that there would be no trash, equip farmers to grow sustainably, bring triumph to global conservation efforts, end strife among nations, and eradicate devastating diseases like cancer and AIDS. It may seem too idealistic, but if I knew I couldn’t fail, I’d want to help make big things happen.

I’d also want to become a skilled tree-climber and animal-communicator and make friends with lions and elephants in the African savanna, dolphins and sea turtles in the Caribbean, and monkeys in the jungle.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

… travel the world, spending time living among the locals and volunteering my (hopefully) future skills as a medical professional to those in need. I’d like to get to know the traditional culture, explore each unique landscape and environment, and learn how life is really lived in different parts of the globe all while doing my part to care for those that live there.

After graduation, I plan to…

… attend medical school and begin the journey of becoming a physician. I hope to not only heal and comfort patients but also help others realize the importance of preventive medicine in health care and that medicine can be used as an agent of change. I hope to inspire patients to pursue health in all aspects of their lives, whether that be in their community, for the environment, through their bodies, or of their minds.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

… studying abroad in Peru. I had so many unforgettable experiences and encounters there: surfing in the famous waters of Huanchaco Beach, hiking part of the Incan Trail, observing pap smears at a women’s prison, visiting Incan ruins, jumping from a waterfall, learning about Amazonian alternative medicine, befriending the many stray dogs, touring coffee and cocoa bean farms, and getting to know some awesome people from our university. I enjoyed being able to see the different sides of the country, and while there were definitely ups and downs — as with any new situation and the occasional food poisoning — I was reminded of the great memories that can be made and people that can be met when you are unafraid to step beyond your comfort zone.

Published Sunday,