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At American University, we celebrate changemakers — bold learners who transform ideas into meaningful impact. Nowhere is the power of philanthropy more evident than in the work of our exceptional students. Below, we invite you to explore just a few of these students’ stories as they share their gratitude for the difference your generosity has made to their education.
2020 scholarship recipients tell us what receiving a scholarship has meant to them.
Kylie McKee, CAS/BS '20
Kyli received the Gloria A. Likins Scholarship that supports her cancer research project in professor John Bracht’s laboratory. She completes her bachelor’s degree this semester and secured a post-baccalaureate research position with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
While I was growing up, I always knew I wanted to pursue a career in the medical field. My parents were surprised by my unwavering love for the sciences, since no one in my family was strong in this area of study. Despite my lack of exposure, my passion continued to grow.
I remember when I first started to look at colleges, tour guides would ramble on about the incredible research happening in the Biology department. When I visited American, they touched on the research taking place on campus, but I was more fascinated by the uniqueness of the close-knit, collaborative science community. This was very different compared to the dangerously competitive environment that is often seen at many other schools. At American, I saw myself being more than just a number, but instead someone who could have an impact.
I vividly remember during my first year at AU sitting in a biology course taught by Dr. John Bracht. At the beginning of the lecture he announced that the Biology Department was accepting applications for the Gloria A. Likins Scholarship. If I were to receive this scholarship, I would have the opportunity to stay in DC for the summer and dedicate my time to research. Although I am sure the rest of the information he covered during class that day was extremely important, I could not listen to a word he said; I was just so excited to hear more about this opportunity. As soon as he dismissed us, I ran to him from the back of the classroom. I most likely scared all of the other interested students away because of my motivation to be the first person to talk to him about this scholarship. Little did I know, that day would drastically shape the rest of my life.
My scholarship enabled me to begin my journey with research. For the past two years, I have been running my own project in Dr. Bracht’s lab involving cancer epigenetics. We collaborate with the National Institute for Advancing Translational Sciences to test the effectiveness of epigenetic drugs on reversing cancer. Essentially, we are taking cells that are cancerous and reverting them back to their normal precancerous conditions by reactivating genes that suppress tumor formation. This hands-on experience has undoubtedly been the most beneficial part of my college education, all of which would not have been possible without receiving my scholarship.
During the school year, it is extremely difficult to dedicate myself to my research. Between completing my degree in three years, having multiple jobs to support myself financially, and participating in many different organizations on and off campus, life gets to be very busy. Having the opportunity to focus solely on research during the summer months would have been impossible without the financial support of the scholarship. It was not feasible for my parents to support me living in DC over the summer, so I would have needed a full-time job, leaving very little time for research. Investing in the sciences at American not only facilitates the addition of new resources, such as the Hall of the Science—which will be truly transformational to students and faculty—but it also give students like me the opportunity to make the most out of the resources that AU has to offer.
Because of my research experience, I have decided to pursue an MD/PhD after graduation. I could not imagine my career path without cutting edge research such as the work I am doing now with Dr. Bracht. My experience in his laboratory has set me up for future success and has secured me a job at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development where I will be researching rare genetic disorders dealing with cholesterol synthesis and transport in children. My experience with my research, and at American University in general, has heightened my passion for the sciences and has ensured my future success. I cannot show enough gratitude to the donors who support students like me in their endeavors. I feel privileged to be a two-time recipient of the Gloria A. Likins Scholarship and a recipient of another summer research award through a partnership between NASA and the College of Arts and Sciences. Because of you AU students can pursue the things that we are most passionate about every day. Without your contributions, we would not be given the chance to fully benefit from all that American University has to offer. Thank you for your support of the AU sciences and the entire university.
Mayra Medrano, Kogod/MBA '20
Mayra received the Ludwig Maximilian Homberger Graduate Scholarship. She built an award-winning 15-year career as a community advocate in Madison, Wisconsin, advancing economic development initiatives at Madison Gas and Electric while also serving as a leader of the local Latino Chamber of Commerce.
I have played the role of advocate, negotiator, administrator, and facilitator for much of my life. As the eldest daughter of Mexican immigrants and a first-generation American, I grew up in a family that only spoke Spanish at home. Our journey as a family started in Los Angeles, California, and my childhood primarily entailed running after ice cream trucks, dancing to Latin music, and carne asada Sunday cookouts at the park. On January 17, 1994, the 6.7 magnitude Northridge earthquake destroyed our home, and my father's employer wasn't able to rebuild. So, after living in our car at the local park where we would have our cookouts, we found ourselves on a one-way flight to Madison, Wisconsin. Not only was Wisconsin a cultural shock but it was also a shock to the body. How can anyone live in a place where it is winter nine months out of the year? I remember my father coming into our home after spending hours clearing and shoveling the snow. He came up to me and asked why our neighbor had said to him, " Boy, it is chilly out, isn't it?" He asked me "Isn't chili what we had for dinner last night?”
In addition to serving as their translator, my parents always entrusted me with helping them navigate the activities of daily life in the US in order to achieve their dream of becoming part of a thriving Latino middle class. Throughout the years, this role has included everything from translating notes sent home by our schoolteachers to negotiating the terms of my parents’ mortgage loan. While the purchase of their home was the culmination of their dreams, it was only the beginning of mine.
The devotion I have for my family extends to my greater community. For the past 15 years, I have been a community advocate fostering and nurturing relationships that significantly improve organizational public awareness. I'm passionate about economic development initiatives because I believe they can create positive systematic changes to cities and regions. I have volunteered at the Latino Chamber of Commerce in Wisconsin to assist entrepreneurs in making informed business decisions. My role there grew to become chair of the organization, and I was responsible for hiring the agency's first executive director. I wanted to make sure that individuals, like my parents, had opportunities for economic growth and were empowered to create and support their financial well-being. I also wanted to mold the narrative of the positive economic contributions that Latino-owned businesses provide to the US economy.
I had what some people may call the "golden handcuffs" when it came to the opportunities and exposure provided to me by my job and my civic engagements: I had the flexibility and motivation to address economic challenges in Wisconsin, and I was good at it. But I needed to quit my full-time job and pursue my MBA to scale and develop into a more impactful civic leader. However, the fear of telling my family that I was quitting my job was frightening. I didn't want them to worry, but I knew this was the step I needed to take to create systematic economic opportunities. I recall telling my parents that I had given my resignation and that I was accepted to graduate school. The only thing that my parents could verbalize was, "Your boss must be upset with you, right?" My hardworking parents value loyalty and were shocked that I could walk away from a good employer that was good to me. But I had to reflect and tell myself that I was good to my employer too. My scholarship gift was the motivator that I needed to feel secure and confident in my decision to move to DC and attend American University. It alleviated the internal insecurity of "Will I be successful?"
I was attracted to AU's Kogod School of Business because their graduate programs are grounded in experiential learning. I wanted to join the Kogod legacy of a network of alumni empowering each other through professional and personal development. When I graduate with my MBA, I want to create private-public partnerships that generate success stories. I want to invest in solutions to complex social and environmental challenges so that societies can access new growth opportunities and mitigate the risks of a changing world.
My scholarship had a profound impact on my family and me. I want to extend my deepest gratitude to my scholarship donor, and to all of you who support students at AU. I promise you that I will continue my dream of creating meaningful contributions to society. I will pay it forward by encouraging and empowering the generation behind me to pursue their higher education goals.