Mary Caroline Yuk, Hazel Phelps Jones Prize

This student is also a Distinguished Undergraduate Scholar and the recipient of the Dean Neal Berte Endowed Scholarship, The Jeffrey Levitetz Endowed Scholarship (Fall 2020), Outstanding Student in a New College Seminar (Spring 2020), and Outstanding Student in a New College Seminar (Fall 2020).

Major: Interdisciplinary studies (concentration in neuroscience)

Hometown: Crystal Lake, Illinois

Favorite Experience at UA: It is nearly impossible to pin down a particular favorite experience here on campus, but the most personally impactful was with Dr. Marcia Hay-McCutcheon and the Hear Here Alabama rural health initiative. Hear Here Alabama is a mobile audiology clinic that travels to underserved areas of Alabama to administer free hearing tests and conduct research on improving accessibility and affordability of hearing healthcare. It was my first research experience here at UA.

Before coming to UA, I was interested in a variety of subjects, but I was unsure of what I wanted my impact to be. Being a part of Hear Here Alabama made me cognizant of the countless opportunities and resources I had to succeed as a profoundly deaf person with cochlear implants. I recognized that such accessibility was not available for others, especially in rural Alabama. I knew I wanted to change that. Shortly after, I discovered my interest in scientific research, and I melded the two purposes together during my undergraduate career. The rest is history!

Favorite Class: My favorite class was UH 300: Art to Life which was taught by Dr. Daniel Potts, which I took during the spring of my freshman year. Art to Life is a course in the Honors College in which groups of students are assigned to a person who has Alzheimer’s Disease or related dementias. We would meet every Friday to do art projects with our person, and over the semester, we learned values of empathy, the power of intergenerational relationships, and personhood. At the end, we created a storybook of our person’s life story, and we presented it to our person and their family at the end of semester celebration.

Taking that class properly contextualized and translated my knowledge of neurodegeneration from the classroom into real, raw, and human experiences. Before, I was just interested in why certain processes and diseases happen, but this class fueled meaning into my concept of research. After taking Art to Life, I joined Dr. Rebecca Allen’s lab and further pursued my interests in geriatrics and rural and community health, and I joined Dr. Jack Dunkle’s Research Group which studies the structure and mechanism of erythromycin resistance methyltransferases, as well as CRISPR-Cas interference. I also participated in Art to Life Outreach where I independently volunteered on a weekly basis at local nursing homes to collaborate with their residents on art projects for the past three years.

Future Plans: My future plans consist of meshing the art of listening and the science of hearing, meaning I hope to be a neuroscientist that advocates for accessibility among the deaf and hard-of-hearing population. Somewhere along the way, I would also like to own three dogs and open the first-ever joint nail salon and burrito restaurant. For now, my immediate steps include pursuing a MSc in Neuroscience at University of Oxford and the MSc in Audiological Science at University College London through the Marshall Scholarship.