Amazing Students

Samantha Summers

Samantha Summers. (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

Samantha Summers is passionate about “integrating sustainability in health care on both individual and systems levels,” and as a doctor she wants to improve the health literacy disparity in Georgia and beyond.

Powder Springs, GA

High school: 
Harrison High School

Current employment:
Student project manager for Office of Research

Family ties to UGA: 
I am the first in my immediate family to attend UGA. While much of the rest of my family are engineers opting to attend UGA’s long-time rival Georgia Tech, I followed my older cousins, Jessica and Erica, in deciding to attend UGA. In spite of the healthy rivalry, my parents have always supported my choice of UGA, and I think my Dad may even envy the college town atmosphere that Athens, Georgia, has perfected. I am hopeful that the Bulldog tradition in my family is just beginning.

Expected graduation: 
Spring 2020

Degree objective:
B.S. Biology and B.S. Psychology

Other degrees:
Certificate in Sustainability

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:
I am greatly indebted to the University of Georgia for the many blessings it has brought me. Growing up in a tightknit community, where it seemed that everybody knew each other, the idea of a large university unsettled me. However, UGA surprised me with a community eager to welcome me as a Bulldog. One of the greatest treasures offered by the University of Georgia is a faculty that actively pursues their students. I am grateful for the many mentors at UGA who listened as I rambled about my varying interests, who challenged some of my dreams only to aid in making the dreams more achievable, and who taught me to ask the right questions. While I am thankful for every single experience I have had at UGA, the Bulldog Nation that rallies together every fourth quarter has been the greatest takeaway from my time at UGA.

I entered UGA as a freshman with an agenda full of clubs and organizations to sample. During my freshman year, a childhood friend invited me to a UGA Rally Foundation general body meeting. We had both been a part of Rally in a service club in middle school in the wake of two family friends passing from childhood cancer. It was in this service club that my interest in medicine was ignited. Since then, my partnership with the Rally has fostered motivation and passion for medicine. The Rally Foundation at UGA is a student organization raising awareness and funding for childhood cancer research. At the first UGA Rally meeting I ever attended, there was a guest speaker who was an M.D. specializing in radiology. He had been diagnosed with childhood cancer and survived his battle. I found his presentation profound as I had never considered life after cancer for survivors of childhood cancer. While still being encouraging of the mission of Rally, he was honest in the scars that cancer had left him with. His vulnerability and honesty emboldened me to pursue Rally for the rest of my time at UGA. My involvement as a freshman consisted of attending meetings and events as a general body member. During my sophomore year, I stepped into the role of vice president. My role in Rally has continued as I have served as co-president the last two years. I have relished organizing fundraising events, working with the Rally nonprofit in Atlanta, and befriending Rally kids and their families. Working with an organization like Rally exemplifies the power of medical intervention to change realities. Moreover, the Rally kids may look unsuspecting, but do not let that fool you; they are some of the funniest, smartest and strongest people I have ever met. The friendships and community at Rally demonstrate just how powerful community can be in the healing process.

Another treasure at UGA has been the UGA Wesley Foundation. I became involved with the Wesley Foundation as a freshman in a program geared toward first-years called Freshley. Since my freshman year, many of my weeknights have been spent in the Wesley chapel or Tate Grand Hall as a Freshley small group leader, a student discipler, and a member of a ministry area called Encounter. UGA Wesley has truly been a blessed part of my last four years as it has prepared me for the challenges that are inevitable post-college. It has anchored my passion for serving others without any agenda other than serving is what I was made to do. I am forever grateful for the opportunities Wesley provided to work with iServe, an organization providing food to the food-insecure in Athens. I will always remember the spring break of my sophomore year spent in Montego Bay, Jamaica, building a house for a single mother, paving a road to an orphanage, and volunteering in West Haven Children’s Home, which caters to mentally or physically handicapped individuals.

My time abroad continued as I boarded a 14-hour flight to Auckland, New Zealand, days after my sophomore year. After much deliberation, I had decided that the UGA Discover Abroad Maymester to Australia and New Zealand would be the perfect fit. The program emphasized biology and sustainability. Unique to Discover Abroad, its programs are travel-based, meaning that cohorts are changing location frequently rather than staying in a single location. The traveling nature of the trip allowed me to experience both the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef on the coast of Australia and the freezing waters of glacier lakes at Mt. Cook in South Island New Zealand. The trip served pivotal in my personal development as I realized the role I wanted to take in protecting natural ecosystems. Returning from the trip, I applied for a certificate in sustainability. Within my sustainability coursework, I have taken classes in all three spheres: ecological, economical and social, painting the holistic nature of issues in sustainability.

Following my time abroad, I deeply agreed with Discover Abroad’s mission in creating global citizens and began working as an ambassador for the program. As an ambassador, I was able to work with other students in organizing promotional events, creating materials and working in the office during the Maymester trips. In July 2019, I took on a role working for the Office of Research as a student project manager. I have enjoyed working in this position and the many technical skills I have learned working under Chris Carter and Shawn Hill.

Starting fall 2018, I began working in Mandi Murph’s Molecular Cancer lab as an undergraduate research assistant. The lab’s research works to understand the mechanisms of melanoma and ovarian cancer cells that confer chemoresistance. The year and a half spent working under Dr. Murph and graduate student Charnel Byrnes were invaluable in my undergraduate career. Working in this lab, I received training on many techniques as well as animal research experience. My very own project in the lab looked for potential genetic transformations underlying suspected cases of malignant melanoma-induced lymphedema. I was able to present my findings in an oral presentation at the 2019 CURO Symposium.

I also have enjoyed working as a volunteer for Hospice Compassus, an end-of-life care group serving the counties surrounding Athens. In addition, I am privileged to be a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Over the last four years, all of these experiences and the people I have met have molded me into a better version of myself. I am grateful for every single moment at UGA, even those hard science night exams that necessitate milkshake runs afterward. Above the experiences, I am thankful for the lifelong friends and mentors I met along the way.

I chose to attend UGA because …
I chose to attend UGA after touring with my Dad and seeing the beautiful campus UGA boasts. Growing up near Atlanta with a family of Tech fans, I was familiar with the Georgia Tech campus, but I knew the city atmosphere of Atlanta was not quite what I wanted for undergrad. Athens was the perfect fit. UGA offers rigorous academics in a city big enough that there is always something to do but small enough to frequently run into familiar faces.

My favorite things to do on campus are …
When I am not spending time on my academics, I love walking through campus gardens. I enjoy reading a book by the koi pond in the Founders Garden or under the shade trees in the Latin American Ethnobotanical Garden. Whenever I have studied or read to the point of feeling antsy, I head over to the intramural fields with some friends. My roommates and friends put together games for pick-up basketball, football, tennis, Frisbee or soccer. I have spent a few seasons playing UGA intramural soccer, Frisbee and flag football.

Samantha Summers. (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

When I have free time, I like … 
Free moments seem few and far between, but in my free moments I love to run and play tennis. I enjoy running in the Prince Avenue area and through downtown. Last semester, I trained and ran the AthHalf, which was a lot of fun. If I have more time, then I enjoy hiking. I have been blessed to have hiked about 140 miles on the Appalachian Trail with my Dad. It has been one of my favorite accomplishments. There is nothing like hiking for eight hours a day to reach a summit to set up camp for the night. I have loved watching sunsets and sunrises along the trail.

I do love the occasional weekend home with my family. I have a younger brother and sister, who always keep me entertained. Whenever I am home, my parents and siblings busy ourselves with board games, old movies, bowling or an escape room. Home also provides time with my puppies. Anybody who knows me knows that at the center of my heart is my dog Max. I love taking Max for a walk by the horse pastures or in the woods near us.

The craziest thing I’ve done is …
While tempted to say jumping off the world’s second largest bungee jump was the craziest thing I have ever done, I think sunrise snorkels on the Great Barrier Reef takes the cake. On my study abroad, we spent five days on Lady Elliot Island, which is an eco-resort on the Great Barrier Reef. During the sunrise dives, the reef wakes up and comes alive. I will never forget looking right down below me to see a blacktip reef shark! We also saw a wobbegong shark, which like its name has a funky appearance. Swimming with sharks as the reef begins to wake up and come into bright colors is definitely the craziest thing I have ever done.

My favorite place to study is …
… Warnell Forestry Building 4 main Lobby. Over my time at UGA, I have had many different study spots for a multitude of purposes. From studying for the MCAT at my lab desk in Pharmacy South to the cubicles on the third floor of the Science Library for studying organic chemistry, UGA has many hidden study spaces. Warnell Building 4 lobby marks my favorite. Three sides of the lobby are covered in a warm colored wood with the fourth side entirely covered by windows overlooking some green space in between all the forestry buildings. I have loved this spot for making me feel a little closer to the outdoors while studying.

My favorite professor is … 
It is hard to pick just one favorite professor after having so many intentional and helpful professors. One of my favorite UGA faculty is Karl Espelie, who has been my advisor for the last three years. Dr. Espelie has been a source of encouragement and wisdom. I remember going into my first advisement appointment anticipating lots of stress, but Dr. Espelie affirmed all that I was already doing and offered valuable insight geared toward my expressed interests. Since that first advising appointment, Dr. Espelie has been an immeasurable resource for UGA and Athens recommendations, career advice and many stories. He cares for his students beyond the walls of UGA, which has come to mean a lot over my time at UGA.

Two of my favorite professors, who I have learned so much from, are Mark Farmer and Dorset Trapnell. Both Dr. Trapnell and Dr. Farmer were faculty from my study abroad program. While studying abroad with them, their passion for teaching was undeniable. Dr. Farmer and Dr. Trapnell are passionate about the environment and convey the dynamic role that humans have in sustaining life on the planet. Traveling and living closely with them for a month attested to their care for students. They desire for students to succeed more in learning and becoming critical thinkers than making good grades, which meant a challenging but rewarding curriculum. Both Dr. Farmer and Dr. Trapnell are genuine in their belief that students will change the world. They do a fantastic job of motivating and empowering students to aspire for new and improved realities.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …
… my Nana, Helen Hudson. She passed away in 2010. Fortunately, she was very present in my childhood because she lived with my immediate family. In the afternoons after school and during the summer, she would spend all her time teaching and helping me with homework. To my mom’s dismay, Nana often ruined many of my suppers with an afternoon waffle snack with way too much syrup. She is the first person that made me fall in love with learning. I would give anything to sit with her for an afternoon and hear her thoughts on the things I have done since her passing and soak up all the advice I could for the future.

If I knew I could not fail, I would …
… work to improve the health literacy disparity in the U.S. and more specifically in Georgia. While working at Hospice Compassus, I have firsthand experience working with individuals who do not quite understand their diagnosis, prognosis or treatment. I am hopeful that as health literacy improves, individuals will choose to take a more active role in their own wellness. UGA has taught me the power of education in asking the right questions. I would like to be a part of helping high-risk populations feel comfortable in health care settings and to know the right questions to ask their health care professionals. To improve the national disparities, I would love to work in developing health education curriculum in schools. The school system is an avenue for reaching many members of the community and could benefit not only students but also parents and faculty.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …
… travel. At odds with my desire to travel is concern for carbon emissions from both air travel as well as motor vehicles. To make my travels worth the large carbon emissions, I would like to travel for an extended stay to either Greenland or Scotland. I do have an adventurous personality and think Greenland would be a great fit. I would love to hike some ice caps, fish and see the northern lights.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?
I am passionate about integrating sustainability in health care on both individual and systems levels. Sustainability focuses on living in a way conscious of the generations of tomorrow. Unfortunately, many hear “sustainable” and tune out believing it to be only about climate change. However, sustainability has a place in health care in so many ways. For instance, air quality is changing in relation to climate change and energy usage. These changes can have an effect on both individual and population health. Sustainability also applies to health care in terms of the nutrition choices individuals make. I am currently pursuing this passion by earning a Certificate in Sustainability along with my undergraduate degrees. This semester, I am working with a team on a sustainability capstone to increase use of the Latin American Ethnobotanical Garden space. If given the opportunity, I would love to pursue a dual MD/MPH degree after completing my undergraduate coursework. As for now, I try to make the most sustainable choices for myself and encourage friends, roommates and family to do the same.

After graduation, I plan to …
I hope to attend medical school and work toward becoming a physician. I will undoubtedly change my mind, but some of the areas of medicine and research that pique my interest are pediatric oncology and geriatrics. I am unsure exactly how, but I would like to integrate public health education in my career. I think that community activism for better health outcomes is an exciting role of a physician.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …
… when UGA beat Auburn in the SEC Championship game on Dec. 2, 2017. I remember watching the game with my roommates. Following the game, we went and rang the bell along with hundreds of other Georgia fans. Then, we hopped in the fountain for a cold wake-up before heading to greet and cheer the UGA football team as they got off the bus at the Butts-Mehre building. It was a great night to be a Dawg.