Amazing Students

Woody Morgan

“Paging Dr. Morgan. Repeating. Paging Dr. Morgan.” While the sounds of this page may not yet be reverberating in a hospital hallway, they will be soon enough.

Hometown:

Atlanta, Georgia

High School:

Henry W. Grady High School

Degree objective:

Bachelor of Science in Biology, Minor in Spanish

Expected graduation:

May 2011

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

In order to talk about the highlights, I first have to mention a low point in my life. I woke up on March 10, 2008, in Pensacola, Fla. It was the second day of spring break, and I was finishing my sophomore year at UGA. This day didn’t include all the beach fun of a regular spring break vacation since I was lying in a hospital bed in the ICU at Sacred Heart Hospital. I had no idea why I was there until my family told me I had broken my C5 and C6 vertebrae. Prior to waking up, the last thing I remembered was getting into the water during a hot day at the beach. Friends, family and doctors had to inform me that the injury had occurred while diving into the crest of an oncoming wave, something I had done throughout my entire life in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This injury left me paralyzed from the breastbone down and with no voluntary use of my hands or fingers. The accident forced me to withdraw from all my courses for the 2008 spring semester. I spent the next five months living and recovering at Shepherd Center before returning to UGA the very next semester in August 2008.

I consider returning to school only months after a life-changing accident to be an achievement in itself. But I have not simply resumed my studies; I have excelled with support from friends, family and faculty at UGA. I was selected from a large applicant pool to be a member of the Student Health Advisory Committee. As a member of SHAC, I acted with several other students as an advisor to the executive director and the health communications coordinator at the UGA Health Center. As part of a panel, I provided student feedback and solutions regarding the budget, operating schedule, services, prospective employees and student fees. I also helped organize Dawg Gone Healthy Day, an annual campus health festival that educates students about various health-related topics.

I also was elected president of the Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society, a small student chemistry club. As president, I organized and led monthly meetings, arranged for outside speakers and organized a Pie-Your-Professor fundraiser in which students paid $1 to throw a whipped cream-covered sponge at some of the chemistry professors. We raised more than $100 from the event and donated the proceeds to the science program at Barnett Shoals Elementary School. I also participated in the club’s community outreach program entitled “Kids in Chemistry.” The goal of the program is to promote interest in science and critical thinking skills in elementary school children. UGA students traveled to a local elementary school once a week to conduct simple chemistry experiments with a group of nearly 20 fourth- and fifth-grade students. It was fun to do, and the kids absolutely love it.

I was recently inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and was also chosen for Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. I have been named a Presidential Scholar twice since returning to school, and I am a two-time recipient of the Gregory Charles Johnson Scholarship, given to a student registered with the UGA Disability Resource Center who has a traumatic injury or physical disability. I also am a member of Alpha Epsilon Delta, a premedical honor society, and Delta Epsilon Iota, an academic honor society.

Family Ties to UGA:

I am the first person in my family to graduate from UGA.. My mother went to Alabama, and my father went to UC Davis in California.

I chose to attend UGA because…

Initially, Georgia was not my first choice coming out of high school. I wanted to go out of state because a friend told me that Georgia was like entering the “13th” grade where I would know the same people from Atlanta and only hang out with those that I knew from high school. My perception changed when I visited Athens for a campus tour. It was only my second time in Athens, and the first time I was able to see everything the school had to offer. I was blown away by the facilities, but my walk through North Campus really sealed the deal. I remember it was a gorgeous spring day and I just got a feeling of being at home under the trees on North Campus. I knew I was in the right place for me. Plus, we have a big-time football program here.
Also, the notion of only hanging out with people from your high school couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are more than 30,000 students here, and some of my best friends are from all over Georgia and the country. If anything, it helped to know some people going to the same school because I was able to meet anyone they met. It really broadened my social network.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

…going to football games. There is nothing better than a game day in Athens. I love getting together with friends to tailgate on campus and then walking to Sanford Stadium with thousands of people dressed in red in black. The energy is contagious. The entire town revolves around the Bulldogs on Saturday, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

My favorite place to study is…

…my room. I can spread everything out on my desk, turn on a fan for some white noise and work for hours. Plus, I don’t have to waste time searching for a room at the [Miller] Learning Center or get distracted by talking with friends.

My favorite professor is…

…Dr. Richard Hubbard. I was in Dr. Hubbard’s organic chemistry class during the semester I was injured, and we have had a great friendship ever since. He was very understanding of my withdrawal from clas,s and he called several times while I was still at the Shepherd Center to check on my progress as well as to discuss plans to retake his class. Once I was back on campus, I found myself in the front row of his class since my wheelchair didn’t allow me to sit anywhere else. The only problem was that the projector screen was at such a high angle when sitting in the front that I had to crane my neck to try and see the slides. Dr. Hubbard noticed this and was able to have someone put in a monitor at my desk so I was no longer looking straight up at the projector screen. I also worked very closely with Dr. Hubbard as president of the Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society. He has helped plan meetings, events and fundraisers. He even helped me push my wheelchair up the ramp behind the chemistry building before one of the meetings. Dr. Hubbard has been so helpful and encouraging throughout my time at Georgia, which shows how much he truly cares about his students.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

…find a way to effectively treat spinal cord injuries and cure paralysis. There has been so much research into the use of stem cells to treat spinal cord injuries and their application in clinical trials has begun, but there is still a long way to go with many barriers in the way. Being able to walk again and regain a normal life is a dream for anyone who has suffered a spinal cord injury. I have thought about this every day since I was injured. Walking, body control, sensation and fine motor control are all things we take for granted until they are taken away from us. There is no way to truly understand the loss that comes with paralysis without experiencing it first hand, and if there were a way to return function to people who have lost it, it would truly be a miracle.

After graduation, I plan to…

…attend medical school at Tulane University School of Medicine and pursue a career in either radiology or physiatry

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

…the “blackout” game against Auburn during my sophomore year. It was a night game, and the energy in the stadium was electric. Everyone in the stadium was wearing black since word had spread that the players and coaches wanted the Bulldawg Nation to blackout Sanford Stadium. The team warmed up in their usual red uniforms but when it came time to run out of the tunnel for the start of the game, all the players were in black jerseys, and the crowd went wild. Then, during a timeout, Knowshon Moreno started dancing to Soulja Boy’s song “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” on the sidelines. Next thing you know, the entire team was dancing and jumping up and down on and off the field. The crowd joined in. I still get excited thinking about it. We had the mental edge after that and went on to beat Auburn. It was, and still is, the best sporting event I have ever been to in my life.

Published Saturday,