Amazing Students

Michael Bowler

Michael Bowler (Photos by Chad Osburn/UGA)

Michael Bowler has filled his time at UGA taking advantage of every opportunity offered to him, from lab research to Dawg Camp leadership to study abroad to Visitors Center tour guide. The future doctor is committed to helping others pursue their passions.

Snellville, Georgia

High school: 
Brookwood High School

Current employment:
Tour leader at the UGA Visitors Center

Family ties to UGA:
I am the first to attend UGA in the family but not the last as my younger brother Connor now attends UGA as well. Although we are two years apart and only one of us had red hair, we are confused for each other on campus so often that now we just go along with it and have some fun and pretend to be each other.

Expected graduation: 
Spring 2020

Degree objective:
Biochemistry and molecular biology; psychology with a neuroscience emphasis

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:
I would like to start off by thanking all the people who have made my experiences at UGA possible – those who first welcomed me to UGA, the professors and faculty who selflessly took the time to listen to and advise me, and those who have become dependable friends over the past four years. I wouldn’t have a story to tell if it wasn’t for the support, guidance and time all of you willingly offered to me.

My experiences at UGA have been shaped by numerous organizations and their members. Dawg Camp, an extended orientation program, created immediate connections with upperclassman mentors and a vision for how I could make the most out of my time at UGA. Dawg Camp’s focus on the importance of getting to know others’ life stories helped me realize how much I enjoy learning about others and what motivates them. Serving as a Dawg Camp counselor during sophomore year introduced me to many students who have inspired me and gone on to do incredible things for the UGA community.

Freshman Forum, a student government program focused on leadership and community service, connected me with an incredible small group, the “Neatos Cheetos” (a name we proudly chose after our assigned orange color), who have become successful leaders and made lasting impacts in a wide array of involvement at UGA and in the Athens community. Freshman Forum also taught me how difficult it can be to find true happiness when constantly comparing oneself to others, especially the incredibly bright and accomplished students of UGA and the importance of investing and supporting those around you.

Another organization that has been a mainstay of my four years at UGA is Shop with a Bulldawg (SWAB), which partners Athens elementary schoolchildren with UGA students who fundraise for the children to go holiday shopping. I began on the Freshman Council of SWAB and later served as co-director of recruitment for two years before returning to direct the Freshman Council myself this year where we support and prepare future leaders of the organization and UGA. Working with other students to plan an event of over 650 deserving kids and 1,300 students that celebrates the value of community between UGA and Athens, has been a highlight of my time at UGA.

When I came to UGA, I quickly learned how available research opportunities are to students. At the end of my first semester, I applied for and was offered a spot in the lab of Steven Stice in UGA’s Regenerative Bioscience Center. Over my first and second years, I studied possible treatments for traumatic brain injury and stroke in rat and pig models and was often exposed to topics long before they were addressed them in the classroom. This challenged and prepared me for my upper level classes and a potential career in medicine built on continuous learning. Through Dr. Stice’s mentorship and guidance from M.D./Ph.D. student Samantha Spellicy, I was given the opportunity to present at multiple conferences and participate in publications. Generous financial support from the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities in the form of multiple research assistantships helped fund my research and time spent in the Regenerative Bioscience Center.

A major highlight of my time at UGA has been serving as a tour leader at the UGA Visitors Center. Sharing my love for UGA and its many communities, learning about prospective students’ interests, and connecting them to not only what UGA offers but what all colleges have to offer, is an incredibly fulfilling experience that always has me leaving work energized and thankful. The mentorship of my bosses Eric Johnson, Natalie Mann and Terri Franks combined with the joyful presence of Ms. Tonya and my remarkable fellow tour guides create a rewarding and exciting work environment to work in and has deepened my appreciation for the university.

My work at the Visitors Center connected me with Destination Dawgs, a UGA program that has been a significant part of my last two years at UGA. Destination Dawgs offers inclusive higher educational opportunities to students with intellectual disabilities. During the special tour I gave to prospective students of the program, I was thrilled by the infectious enthusiasm that the students expressed about the potential of attending UGA. Now as a peer mentor, I connect the students with social networks at UGA and opportunities to do what they love such as playing at open mic night at Hendershot’s, assisting the baseball team at Foley Field, and designing action figurines in the Makerspace at the Science Library. The friends I have made through Destination Dawgs are lifelong, and I’ll forever be grateful for being introduced to the program.

A recent highlight in my college career was traveling to Cape Town, South Africa, for a medical internship sponsored by Honors International Scholars Program. Volunteering in the Crossroads Community Health Clinic, I was able to build a wonderful relationship with Capetonian physician Dr. Rosa Jansen while learning how to communicate effectively and express care often across language barriers. Even with limited resources and a large patient population, Dr. Jansen was incredible in her motivation to make sure each patient received the attention and care they needed. On the weekends when the clinic was closed, I spent time with friends from across the world exploring the city, waking up early for sunrise hikes on the mountains above the city and surrounding ocean and traveling across the country while learning about its history, and even at one point bungee jumping from the highest bungee jump bridge in the world.

I also have been fortunate to be a part of the Dean William Tate Honor Society, the Dean of Students Leadership Retreat, the UGA Miracle Hospital Relations Committee, IMPACT Service Break program, Blue Key Honor Society and a Phi Beta Kappa Honoree. As I gain more clinical exposure before applying to medical school, I have also become involved in Mercy Health Center and St. Mary’s Hospice where I get the opportunity to interact with, listen to, and support and learn from patients on a weekly basis.

I will be forever thankful for the generosity of the Zell Miller, Charles McDonald Brown, CURO Assistantship, and Honors International Scholarships for supporting me financially during my time at UGA allowing me to pursue and focus fully on my involvements and studies and for making the memorable experiences of my time at UGA possible.

I chose to attend UGA because … 
Growing up a Notre Dame fan, I found myself throughout high school seeing myself there and in fact applied and was accepted. I did not realize all that UGA had to offer until the spring of my senior year of high school. A few factors changed my mind and I could not be more thankful. Generous UGA and state scholarships helping to offset medical school costs down the road, snow on the ground in an April visit up north (I’ll pass), and a memorable visit to UGA during my senior spring semester. I will forever be thankful for the time that Elizabeth Hughes and Lakecia Pettway from the Honors College spent discussing the UGA community with me during this visit. Their genuine interest in me and my future plans and their enthusiasm for UGA and how the university could help me to attain my goals were eye-opening.

During my campus visit, many other students and faculty that I met with showed the same kindness and interest in not only me but also each other and were proud of this university, creating an infectious, inviting atmosphere. I left the visit knowing that UGA provided a range of opportunities for academics and involvement and would help me reach my goals inside and outside the classroom. I am thankful to now proudly wear the red and black and be a member of the Bulldog Nation, a community that invests in one another and supports all of its members. If football wins happened to be an indication of whether I chose the right school, it looks like I won 2-0 too!

My favorite things to do on campus are … 
When choosing to attend a university of nearly 40,000, I never thought that I would run into others I knew on a regular basis walking around campus. Now there is nothing I enjoy more than running into those I have met through different experiences at UGA. From short passing greetings to spontaneous conversations with friends and faculty, I leave these personal interactions thankful for all the wonderful individuals I have met and continue to meet through UGA.

One of my favorite places to relax on campus is Herty Field, where I can often be found grabbing a pizza and catching up with friends or listening to music on a cool fall day. The adjacent Herty Fountain has been the location of some of my most joyful celebrations in college. After taking my “Organic Chemistry 2” final, I jumped in the fountain with a group of friends who had bonded together during all of the introductory science courses we took during our first two years. No matter how tough the course, they were a group I could depend on for assistance and encouragement. Being able to celebrate being finished with a rigorous course was made even sweeter knowing that I had developed incredible friendships along the way.
I also love spending time at the Ramsey Student Center and recreational fields playing IM sports and enjoy supporting my teammates, which I have gotten quite good at from the sidelines being rather injury prone myself.

When I have free time, I like … 
When I am not teaching my roommate Ben Starks how to play basketball at the Ramsey Student Center, you can find me following what bands are coming to Athens and performing at amazing venues like the 40 Watt and the Georgia Theater. Music has always played a large role in my life (all on the listening side, as my younger brother possesses all the musical talent in our family), and thankfully there is never a week without an interesting concert in Athens. This final year at UGA, I am hoping to attend as many concerts as possible, and it helps that four of my favorite bands are playing in Athens this fall semester.

Watching sports with my friends is always a great way to decompress, and I enjoy watching almost any competition but am an especially avid soccer fan. Following Atlanta United since their founding in 2017 and getting to see them win the MLS Cup in only their second year was an incredibly memorable experience (Vamos Atlanta!). I also love watching Champions League soccer, a competition to determine the top European club, and was ecstatic to see my favorite club Liverpool win the competition this summer alongside friends who I had converted into fellow supporting fans while abroad in Cape Town.

In my free time I especially enjoy being outside in the sun (with a necessary, generous application of sunscreen) and I love Athens because of its assortment of great places to relax outdoors. Ben Burton Park, which sits on the Middle Oconee River, is one of my favorite places to visit after a long, stressful day and spend time with friends.

The craziest thing I’ve done is … 
… receive a kiss from an ostrich named Betsy. When traveling east along the Garden Route that traverses the South African continent, our group stopped at an ostrich farm to try ostrich meat. To my surprise, we first had a chance to learn about and meet different ostriches on the farm (an interesting approach to selling ostrich meat I remember thinking at the time). The first ostrich we met was a 6-foot 2-inch female, introduced to us as Betsy by our tour guide. The tour guide then said he wanted one of us to meet Betsy up close and having lived life as an impossible to miss tall ginger, I knew what was coming next. “Sir, you with the red hair, come inside here and meet Betsy.” Keep in mind that we had just been told that this bird consistently ranks in the top three of most dangerous birds in the world and has eyes bigger than its brain, but not knowing when I might get to meet an ostrich up close again, I entered the pen.

After a feel of Betsy’s feathers and having her rapidly peck food pellets out of my hand, I thought I was finished, but our tour guide gleefully told our group that I would now be receiving a kiss from Betsy. He gave me a food pellet to hold in my lips for Betsy to eat. Betsy stared at me with her enormous eyes and not wanting to offend Betsy and her long, sharp claw feet, I decided to stay put and hope that maybe Betsy had a larger brain than her fellow ostriches. The tour guide instructed Betsy “Give him a soft kiss” and Betsy took two steps forward and bam, took the food pellet right from my lips. It was all too much to process at the time but now looking back I would like to thank Betsy for leaving both of my lips fully intact and for her surprisingly affectionate hospitality on that memorable day on her ostrich farm.

My favorite place to study is … 
I have changed the location of my favorite study spot repeatedly throughout college. The location often depends on what is most convenient for the day and how hungry I am feeling. The dining halls with their “all you can eat” menus were a favorite study place when I was on a meal plan my first two years at UGA. I also have frequently switched between the fourth floor of the Main Library as well as the MLC, my apartment, and a coffee bar downtown called Hendershot’s.

My favorite professor is …
This is a difficult question, as every one of my UGA instructors has stood out in some way. After having had the opportunity to present material in multiple courses myself, I am even more appreciative of the amount of time and effort required by faculty to make class instructive and interesting.

Steven Stice took a leap of faith on me as a first-year student with little prior research experience when I applied to work at the Regenerative Bioscience Center. Dr. Stice allowed me to work in his lab studying cutting edge stem cell-derived therapeutics for brain damage caused by traumatic brain injuries and strokes. I will always be grateful for Dr. Stice’s mentorship and that of his graduate student Samantha Spellicy who supported and prepared me to the point where I could write and present on topics like stroke therapeutics of which I had no prior knowledge coming into college.

I also cherish the mentorship of Sylvia Hutchinson, for she has been instrumental in supporting me as I make decisions about the next academic and training steps in my life. Dr. Hutchinson made it clear from day one of her medicine in literature seminar that she was in “my corner” and someone that I could rely on for guidance and support. Her love of meeting students over food, most often at the Thai Spoon restaurant, has been a perfect fit and her focus on approaching medicine from the patient’s perspective will have a long-lasting influence as I pursue a career in medicine. I am also grateful for Karl Espelie for his advice and counsel helping me navigate the process of applying to medical school while introducing me to different career paths in medicine in his modern biology seminar.

Bill McDonald has also played an influential role supporting and encouraging me at UGA. I am amazed that the dean of students at a school the size of UGA makes himself accessible to any student who reaches out, generously taking students to lunch in the Tate Student Center whenever he gets the chance. Whether running into Dr. Bill with one of my tour groups of prospective students or at one of the many campus events he attends, he always expresses a genuine interest in the members of the UGA community. I admire his ability to sincerely connect with others whether they are prospective, current or graduated students. I hope to convey to others the same level of care and interest that Dr. Bill expresses to everyone he encounters.

A few other professors I would like to personally thank include John Achee for his introduction to psychology class that influenced me to add on a psychology major; James Lauderdale for his neurobiology course that focused more on challenging us how to properly think and analyze than on route memorization; Alan Darvill for his introductory biology course, which provided a foundation for success in my upper level science courses; Arvin Scott for his African percussion music class and his constant encouragement despite my lack of rhythm; Randy Hammond for his intriguing courses that combined my interests in health and medicine and the psychology subjects; Gregory Robinson for his chemistry course that emphasized understanding over memorizing and enjoying the process of learning; and graduate student now Dr. Rupa Gokal who was patient with the many mistakes I made in organic chemistry lab and helped me understand the most challenging topics.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …
… my grandfather on my mom’s side, Bob Douglas, who passed away when I was 4 years old. I have always been told by my family that he and I would have gotten along perfectly together had he lived longer. As a World War II veteran, managing editor of the Arkansas Gazette and chairman of the University of Arkansas Department of Journalism, he lived through and covered important periods of our history including highly contentious moments in the civil rights movement. I would love to share an afternoon with him and talk about his life experiences as he was always known to tell incredible stories.

If I knew I could not fail, I would …
… launch a startup that organized and funded facilities that offered Special Olympics teams and other activities for those with different developmental disabilities. As a Special Olympics coach in high school and now a mentor for the UGA Destination Dawgs program, I have seen how incredibly rewarding continuing to be a part of a community is for students after they graduate high school, whether in the camaraderie of sports or as part of the Bulldog Nation. I would aim to establish centers in underserved areas that previously may not have access or adequate funding for such opportunities.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …
… travel across the United States and world and listen to other people’s stories and what they have found to be most valuable in life and document and share their experiences. There is nothing I enjoy more than hearing about other people’s life experiences as it can enhance my perspective on situations. By traveling, I would hopefully be able to compare similarities and differences between the stories I hear from different cultures and what people found to be key to leading rewarding lives.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?
I love learning about other people’s passions and what gets them excited about life. Many of my favorite moments have been those that have allowed me to listen to the diverse interests and pursuits of others and how they plan or are continuing to figure out how to reach their goals. By scheduling meals with new and old friends each week, I continue to learn more about what they are passionate about and how I can help support and encourage them in their pursuits. I am thankful for the mentors who have helped me realize the possibility of applying my desire to listen, encourage and assist others through the field of medicine. This year, I hope to mentor students who are unsure of the path they hope to pursue and serve the same role upperclassmen filled for me as I figured out what I wanted to do during my first years in college.

After graduation, I plan to … 
… pursue an M.D. so that I can use education and training to help people get back to good health, so they can return to their work and families and spend time pursuing what they love doing most. I am leaning towards pediatrics based on my current shadowing experiences, though I am excited about the chance to learn about different medical career paths while in medical school, residency and rotations.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …
… watching my friends in the first cohort of the Destination Dawgs program graduate in Sanford Stadium and the thunderous applause they received from the UGA community. When their program was called, one of the students, Jordan Huffman, put his hand up in the air and let out some Bulldawg barks that led to the entire Sanford Stadium joining in a crescendo of barks. Knowing the challenges that each of the Destination Dawgs students had fought hard to overcome along their way to graduation from UGA and seeing them recognized and embraced by the UGA community, was incredibly moving and makes me proud to be a Georgia Bulldog.

(Originally published on Sept. 29, 2019)