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APSU student spending summer as intern at Vanderbilt University Medical Center

While most college students spend their summers pool- or beachside, Austin Peay State University chemistry major Shelia Johnson will be taking advantage of a unique opportunity by learning alongside some of the region’s brightest medical minds.

A chemistry major planning to pursue PharmD/PhD degrees upon graduation, Johnson is in her second summer as an Aspirnaut summer research intern at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville.

While most college students spend their summers pool- or beachside, Austin Peay State University chemistry major Shelia Johnson will be taking advantage of a unique opportunity by learning alongside some of the region’s brightest medical minds.

A chemistry major planning to pursue PharmD/PhD degrees upon graduation, Johnson is in her second summer as an Aspirnaut summer research intern at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville.

Aspirnaut is a K20 STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program designed to give opportunities to gifted students from rural or disadvantaged communities. Participants are given individual career development, mentored by STEM professionals and offered college and professional preparation opportunities.

“I am interested in being a part of the Aspirnaut program because I love discovery and I love being challenged with a mystery and asked to solve it,” Johnson said.

Founded in 2006 by Billy Hudson and his wife, Dr. Julie K. Hudson – both affiliated with Vanderbilt University – the program has introduced hundreds of students to STEM career paths to which they may not have been exposed otherwise.

“For many of these children, there is someone in their lives, whether it be a teacher or administrator or guidance councilor, who noticed that they think a little differently or speak a little differently than many of the other students in their school,” Dr. Julie K. Hudson said. “Our message (to those students) is that this can be an opportunity that may not only change their lives for the better, but change their family’s lives. There is a big world outside of the small one you live in, filled with people who can challenge you to think and succeed.”

Johnson said her career goal is to be a cancer researcher, and the work she is doing in the lab with Aspirnaut is giving her a leg up on her peers as she prepares for life in the medical research field.

“Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to spend a great amount of time working in a lab,” Johnson said. “I have learned a number of skills that I am sure many students my age do not possess. I am challenged on a daily basis. I know what I am working on could eventually lead to helping someone years later, (and) that makes me feel like I am part of something worthwhile.”

Johnson is also interested in mentoring other students. As an undergraduate, she participates in the Austin Peay Chemistry Club, which provides opportunity and encouragement for middle and high school students who wish to pursue a career in STEM fields.

For more information about Aspirnaut, visit the website: www.aspirnaut.org. To find out more information on the APSU Chemsitry Department, visit online at http://www.apsu.edu/chemistry.