Luke McKay | Dean’s Award of Merit

Major: Biology

Minor: Blount Scholars Program

Hometown: Amarillo, Texas

Favorite Experience: It’s impossible for me to overstate how much my research experience has shaped my time at UA. I have been part of the Caldwell Laboratory (AKA the Worm Shack) since the first semester of my freshman year, working with graduate students on their projects to learn more about Parkinson’s disease using the roundworm C. elegans. Through this experience, my understanding of science and the day-to-day realities of research has become far more robust, and I have a much greater appreciation of all the work that has allowed us to know what we know and all the work that still remains to be done. Under the mentorship of the Caldwell’s and Anthony Gaeta, the doctoral candidate I’ve worked with, I was able to successfully apply for a fellowship from the Parkinson’s Foundation, funding an independent research project over the summer to explore some genetic factors involved in resilience to Parkinson’s. The sense of responsibility I felt to carry out this project to the best of my ability given the importance of the subject was unlike anything I’d experienced before, and the sense of accomplishment I felt upon completing the work is a feeling I’ll carry with me for a long time.

Favorite Class: Although picking a favorite class from my time at UA feels a bit like picking a favorite child given how impactful so many different classes have been in shaping me into who I am today, one of the experiences that has been most influential for me was my Blount elective “Living Longer, Living Better?” with Dr. Toni Copeland, which I took in Spring 2020. The class investigated some of the social determinants of health and was immensely helpful in augmenting my capacity to think of the multitudinous systemic factors that shape health, which I know will be crucial in helping me to be a better physician. And beyond this, with the onset of the pandemic two months into the semester and the switch to online classes, our weekly discussions were invaluable in giving me the tools to make sense of what was going on in the world around me. It became impossible for me to overlook all the ways in which the burdens of disease are not distributed equally, and these realizations spurred me to explore any of the ways in which I could do some small part to help. While every class I’ve taken at UA has been important to me in some way, no other course has come so much at a necessary time.

Future Plans: Next year I will return to Texas for medical school, and beyond that my plans could go in a variety of directions. I’m not yet sure what specialty I’ll pursue, though I plan to continue participating in research during medical school. On the whole, I just aim to pursue whatever opportunities most empower me to help the greatest number of people that I can.