Cleveland Piggott Jr. got his first taste of research at the University of Georgia while he was still a senior in high school. He’s spent every year since then working to better understand the cellular mechanisms involved in Alzheimer’s disease. He’s presented his research findings in Costa Rica and traveled the world as a Foundation Fellow, doing medical and dental service work in Panama, volunteering in Brazil and visiting Egypt. Closer to home, he is vice president of the university’s Ballroom Performance Group and a peer advisor for students interested in scientific careers.
Peachtree Ridge High School
B.S. in biology and psychology
University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:
I was chosen as a National Science Foundation Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) Promising Scholar in my senior year of high school and given the opportunity to see what research was like at the University of Georgia. After attending the CURO Symposium, I knew that this was the place for me, and I was accepted to the Honors Program and chosen as a CURO Apprentice. I have done research on protein structures associated with Alzheimer's disease called Hirano bodies with Dr. Marcus Fechheimer and Dr. Ruth Furukawa in the cellular biology department. I essentially try to figure out how Hirano bodies form and degrade. I love working in the lab so much that I’ve done it in all four years of my college career. In the summer after my freshmen year, I received the CURO Summer Fellowship to continue my research. The Honors Program and CURO gave me the opportunity to present my research that year at the CURO symposium and attend an undergraduate symposium in Austin, Texas. In the spring of my second year, I was fortunate to be chosen as a mid-term Foundation Fellow and to receive the first place Library Undergraduate Research Award for first through third year students. I spent my sophomore year as a CURO Teaching Assistant, where I helped students interested in research and found myself on a committee to improve undergraduate research at UGA. The summer after my sophomore year, I was given the opportunity to present my research at the CURO international symposium with 12 students from UGA and 12 students from the University of Costa Rica. I was also able to go on a medical and dental service trip in Costa Rica and Panama for two weeks. The university also enabled me to spend spring break in Egypt and allowed me to spend my summer volunteering in Salvador, Brazil at a cancer support house, pre-school and children's hospital. At the end of my third year, I was accepted into the Blue Key Honor Society for students who show excellence in academics and leadership. I am now spending my senior year as the vice president of the Ballroom Performance Group, writing my thesis, and serving as a peer advisor for a Life Science Learning Community, where I act as a guide for students interested in scientific careers. I look forward to graduating with highest honors and as a CURO Scholar with distinction.
I’m a peer adviser for the Creswell Life Sciences Learning community, where I act as a guide for students interested in scientific careers. My job is to be there for the students in whatever capacity they need me and to do what I can to help them be successful.
Family Ties to UGA:
I am the first bulldog in my family, but I am far from the last. My younger and only brother, Akil Piggott, started as a freshman here at UGA in Fall 2009.
I chose to attend UGA because…
…the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) Apprentice Program and UGA’s Honors Program made coming to this university an easy choice. The chance for me to do research with a faculty mentor my first semester at UGA and the opportunities, small class sizes and the reputation of the Honors Program made UGA the best value and a perfect fit for me. Plus, I love football.
My favorite things to do on campus are…
…going to Friday night ballroom dances at the new dance theatre. I love dancing. I also enjoy simple things like hanging out with friends and watching movies. My friends and I also love Georgia football.
When I have free time, I like…
…to dance, make people laugh and volunteer with students. Whether it is at ballroom practice or downtown Atlanta; I love all forms of dancing. Depending on who you ask, I am a pretty funny guy. Despite being called soft spoken, I still have a little bit of that elementary school class clown left in me. My friends have grown to accept my sarcasm and love me in spite of it. Two other passions of mine are teaching and mentoring because it makes me happy, enables me to learn and allows me to make a difference in another person’s life. I teach ballroom lessons, Sunday school, and mentor at Cedar Shoals High School.
The craziest thing I've done is…
… dance with an Egyptian belly dancer while on a boat on the Nile River. My friends did not even have to do much to convince me. I moved my hips a little and busted out a ballroom move or two. My friends said I kind of out danced her. They were probably being nice, but I’ll pretend it’s true.
My favorite place to study is…
…Dr. Marcus Fechheimer and Dr. Ruth Furukawa’s cellular biology research lab. By the end of the school year, I will have worked there for four years and a couple of summers. Lab is like a second home to me—except that it doesn’t have a comfy bed, television, and my friends coming in and out all the time. This makes lab a great place to study and feel comfortable (but not too comfortable). Plus, the view from my desk is not too shabby.
My favorite professor is…
…Dr. Fechheimer of the cellular biology department. I have known this professor since freshman year, when he agreed to be my lab mentor. Besides providing guidance with my research, he has been a life mentor and has always made himself accessible. He has introduced me to so many wonderful mentors, helped me put life in perspective, and knows just what to say to make you smile. I admire his heart for students and positive outlook on life. I don’t like the fact that he kills me at ping pong, however, and I’m not even going to try to challenge him at racquetball. He is easily one of the University’s greatest assets.
If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…
…President Barack Obama. He is such an inspiration to me, and I have so much respect for him for how he has lived his life and what he has accomplished. I am in awe of his eloquence and cannot imagine what it is like for him to have so much pressure on a day-to-day basis. He has inspired and made a difference in the lives of so many, and I hope I will be able to look back on my life and be able to say I did the same in my own way.
If I knew I could not fail, I would…
…find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. It has been difficult for me to see my grandfather suffer with this disease at such an early age, and it is even harder to see how it impacts my grandmother. He does not remember who his family is anymore, and I remember him crying in front of me, just a few years ago, asking why this was happening to him. He is the reason I do Alzheimer’s disease research now.
After graduation, I plan to…
… go to medical school and also get a master’s degree in public health. I want to improve health disparities and encourage good health practices in the community. I’ve wanted to be a doctor since the beginning of my freshman year of high school and am so excited about the opportunity to find a profession that combines my loves of science, people and teaching. Too bad ballroom dancing and surgery don’t mix very well.
The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…
…… Thanks to Dr. Kleiber and the Honors program, I had an opportunity to go to Costa Rica for a CURO International Symposium at UGA’s campus in San Luis, Costa Rica. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, the people I met were amazing, and the nerd in me loved the chance to present my research. It was probably one of the best weeks of my life.