Amazing Students

Emily Austin

Emily Austin (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA taken in February 2020)

(Originally published March 16, 2020)

Emily Austin is working toward fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a physician and bringing creation and innovation to health care delivery, and UGA has provided all the opportunities necessary to send her down that path.

Douglasville, GA

High school:
Chapel Hill High School

Current employment: 
I currently nanny for a local Athens family.

Family ties to UGA:
Though I come from a long lineage of Bulldog fans, my older sister, Hannah, was the first to attend the University, graduating with a B.B.A. in finance in 2018. After several visits on the weekends watching her thrive at UGA, I was honored to follow her footsteps (and my parents were excited to continue having an excuse to make their way to Athens on fall Saturdays).

Expected graduation: 
Spring 2020

Degree objective:
B.S. in psychology, neuroscience emphasis

Other degrees: 
Minor in biology; Certificate in Personal and Organizational Leadership

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:
Every summer growing up, my mom would take my siblings and me to Six Flags. After riding a roller coaster, I would run over to look at the photo taken of us during the ride. Much like a roller coaster, my college experience has been fast paced, exhilarating and filled with many ups and downs. As I reflect on the last four years, my most treasured highlights — the still photos in my mind — are ones where, amidst the busyness and chaos, time stood still as someone else’s life was impacted for the better.

Since my freshman year, I’ve had the privilege of volunteering at Mercy Health Center, a local Christian health resource center serving our uninsured, low-income population. I have served as a check-in volunteer, clinical liaison, medical scribe and team leader. Some of my most meaningful moments volunteering have been inside the exam rooms alongside physicians while scribing medical notes. Here, I’ve seen patients open up about their brokenness, whether physical disability, unemployment, imprisonment, anxiety, depression, poverty, addiction or homelessness. In these spaces where vulnerability connected with mutual trust, I witnessed many life stories rewritten. I’m thankful for the privilege to participate in Mercy’s purpose, where darkness is driven out by people simply showing up and showing love to their neighbors.

My sophomore year, I was selected to represent UGA as an Orientation leader, welcoming over 5,000 new students to the university alongside 14 incredible student leaders I now consider family. Orientation was an electrifying environment — many highlights of that summer involve creating and performing skits on stage, staying up way too late laughing with my teammates in our hallway in Creswell, and squeezing every ounce of extraversion I had within me to sing or stand in front of 25-30 students every session trying to make them laugh. However, my most valued memories serving as an “OL” are held in the less “glamorous” moments; instead, in those conversations reminding me not every student entering college is eager and hopeful, as certainty and comfort are often left behind at home. Each session, I sought out at least one student who seemed fearful and tried to connect on a deeper level, no matter how different they seemed to be from me. These moments — where I was able to meet someone who was hurting or scared and witness their apprehension become supplanted by sighs of relief — are memories I will cherish forever.

Thanks to the Honors International Scholars Program, I was able to spend the majority of the following summer in Africa, where UGA provided one of my most challenging learning environments through the Ghana Service-Learning Program. During the five-week program, our team traveled throughout the country to conduct mobile clinics, providing health screenings and nutrition education to hundreds of Ghanaians. My experience in these clinics was dynamic and diverse: Experiences ranged from taking the blood pressure of an 80-year-old rural individual who spoke no English to testing the hemoglobin levels of a 5-year-old inner-city child wearing a school uniform and speaking perfect English. No matter who they were or where they came from, they welcomed us into their communities with sincere hospitality and deep gratitude. While in Ghana, I realized I am attracted to medicine because it is practiced in virtually every culture of the world. It should benefit people from every race, nationality, religion and socioeconomic position. I returned to the States with a fueled desire to pursue overseas medical mission work and an interest in learning more about challenges facing other cultures. Since then, I have continued to sharpen my worldviews in taking a class at a local church exploring God’s redemptive plan for people of all nations and our role in cross-cultural partnerships.

This year, I sought further enrichment in Terry’s Institute for Leadership Advancement Fellows Program. Through academic courses and service-learning experiences, ILA has helped me explore, in more depth, who I am and build a framework for my leadership vision and purpose. Relationships built with my professors, other Fellows and community leaders have constantly pushed me to live out the program’s core values of responsibility, stewardship, excellence, integrity and purpose. I hope to utilize the principles learned from ILA in leading others to realize their full potential, both in my personal and professional life.

During my time at Georgia, I also engaged in undergraduate research in the UGA Infant Research Lab, under the direction of associate professor Janet Frick. In the lab, I integrated my understanding of developmental psychology to reveal connections between nutrition and visual processing speeds in infants. Research challenged me to apply critical thinking skills outside the classroom, further preparing me for medical school and cultivating an interest to pursue research in the future.

In addition, I am grateful to be a member of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority, an inductee into both the Phi Beta Kappa and Order of Omega academic honor societies, and a two-time recipient of the Taco Bell Live Mas national scholarship.

Far above the experiences, however, my greatest highlight of all would be encountering the incredible community of people UGA and the city of Athens boast. I attribute every ounce of growth and flourishment the last four years to the lifelong friends and mentors who have graciously encouraged and taught me along the way. I am leaving UGA as a transformed, changed, better individual because of them and I could not be more thankful.

I chose to attend UGA because …
… it just really has it all: great academics, great faculty, great financial support through the Zell-Miller Scholarship, and great football! Choosing to attend UGA was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

My favorite things to do on campus are …
… grabbing an ice cream between classes at The Creamery on South Campus, catching up with friends over lunch at Tate Cafe, or momentarily escaping from studying at the Main Library to walk through the scenic North Campus (usually to also pick up a mobile order from the Chick-fil-A downtown). Aside from my food experiences (“Let the Big Dawg Eat” am I right?), I love strolling in the Trial Gardens on my way home after an exam, as it always helps me zoom out from the stresses of academics and realign my perspective. Additionally, I love to go for runs, walks and bike rides at the State Botanical Garden.

When I have free time, I like …
… doing pretty much anything that is outdoors or that gives me an opportunity to spend quality time with friends — preferably both at the same time! In my downtime, you can find me running, hiking, playing tennis, practicing my (very elementary) golf swing at the driving range, eating a fried chicken taco at Taqueria Del Sol, or grilling and chilling with friends on my back porch.

The craziest thing I’ve done is …
… summit Mount Kilimanjaro. After studying abroad in Ghana, my best friend Madison and I made a pit stop in Tanzania to conquer the tallest peak in Africa. After six days of ascent, our team stopped at the final base camp below the summit and took a brief nap, awaking at 11 p.m. to throw on headlamps and hiking boots and begin our push to the summit. I will never forget that climb through the night — replete with its glorious moments of downing anti-nausea medication and frozen Slim Jims at 3 a.m., practicing my rudimentary Swahili skills with our guides, and, finally, reaching the peak just in time to see the sun emerge over the horizon, witnessing a new day unfold while standing 19,341 feet high atop the world’s largest free-standing mountain. Talk about a breathtaking moment!

My favorite place to study is …
Jittery Joes in Five Points has been one of my most frequented study spots and gracious sources of support in college — not only for the exorbitant amount of caffeine it has provided me over the years, but through countless conversations and friendships cultivated there.

However, when I need to really focus, you can find me on the right side of the third floor of the Science Library. This area holds a special place in my heart for the scary amount of hours I’ve spent there, especially during the demanding seasons of Organic Chemistry and MCAT prep. Fortunately, I have some pretty driven and diligent classmates turned friends who I could always count on to be right there — providing (silent) moral support, pushing through late-night cram sessions, or keeping an eye on my stuff while I snuck off to the second-floor bean bags to squeeze in a few more power naps than I would like to admit.

My favorite professor is … 
This is a tough one. While every professor I’ve had at UGA has impacted me in constructive ways, I want to highlight a few professionals who have truly shaped and molded me.

I undoubtedly would not be where I am today without the guidance and encouragement of my advisor, professor Karl Espelie. I’m convinced his job title should be renamed “Life-Saver for the Pre-Med Students” because his level of investment in students is unmatched. From our three-hour-long advising sessions, to giving me opportunities in class to connect with current physicians, to insightful conversations during dinners at the Grit, Dr. Espelie rises far above and beyond his call of duty every single day. The best part is, he does it all from a caring heart and a genuine desire to see his students realize their full potential.

I would be remiss without shouting out some of the world’s greatest encouragers: Alton Standifer, Tori Tanner and Nic Laconico — my supervisors during my time as an Orientation leader. I will be forever indebted to these three for showing me what true servant leadership looks like, pushing me to pursue my dreams with confidence, and making my OL summer one of the most formative experiences of my life.

I am grateful for Elizabeth Hughes in the Honors College for helping me navigate the daunting waters of the medical school application process, Laura Little for challenging me to reflect in writing a 40-plus page introspection paper, and Janet Frick for being a supportive research mentor and professor.

Emily Austin (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …
… Lauren Daigle. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact I am probably one of her biggest fans. While I have always thought she is the most phenomenal artist and songwriter, after seeing her in concert this year, I have a whole new level of respect for her. The way she approaches life with lightheartedness and zeal is captivating and a reminder that I don’t have to take myself so seriously. I admire her ability to remain 100% authentic and true to her goofy, fun, real self even while on an international platform — yet still leverages that platform to do meaningful work for humanity through her support for the imprisoned and organizations like ChildFund. Needless to say, getting to spend an afternoon with her would be a dream come true. I would love to just sit with her, sipping on coffee and talking about all the good that surrounds us today and invites us into a fulfilling future!

If I knew I could not fail, I would …
… establish and run a comprehensive health care clinic in an underdeveloped, low-resourced country. I believe there is power in the provision of something as vital as medicine as it can open doors to relationships that would otherwise not exist. I would love to wield the tool of medicine in these spaces to address not only physical needs, but foster whole-person healing by seeking opportunities to minister to the eternally important spiritual needs of individuals.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …
… travel and adventure in virtually every country of the world. I think I’d start by surfing in Australia, snow skiing in the Swiss Alps, skydiving in South Africa, then maybe completing a base camp climb on Mount Everest (I am clearly a bit of an adrenaline junkie!).

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?
My passion is to make others feel valued and worthy. I’ve been reminded time and time again that sincere affirmation is one of the greatest gifts we can give others —whether that is by being a steadfast cheerleader for friends, an advocate for the unheard, or a listening ear that seeks full understanding and empathy.

In college, that has looked like eating lunch with a first-year student struggling to transition, sitting with a Mercy patient and validating their hardships, mentoring younger girls in my sorority, or simply showing up when a friend is having a hard day.

In the future, I want to leverage this passion as a doctor that views patients as more than a list of symptoms to address but treats them as whole beings inherently deserving of attention, service and healing.

After graduation, I plan to …
… attend medical school at the Medical College of Georgia to continue to work toward fulfilling my childhood dream of becoming a physician.

While I am largely unsure of the specialty I wish to pursue, I hope to impact the medical field on both an individual and systems level. I desire to bring creation and innovation to health care delivery by thinking outside the norm to spearhead and support initiatives that better patients’ quality of life, alleviate their suffering and improve their treatment experience.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …
… my last home football game I attended as a student. The day started out miserably rainy and cold and it took just about everything in me to put on my poncho and venture down Lumpkin Street to Sanford Stadium. However, when my friends and I arrived at our seats, we just embraced the weather, pulling down the hoods of our rain jackets and dancing around to “Baba O’Riley” in the puddles. Around halftime, the downpour finally stopped and the clouds opened up to reveal an incredible sunset over the stadium. I’ll never forget standing in Section 308 with my best friends, looking like we all just stepped out of a shower, acting like kids again, and cheering on our Dawgs together one final time.