Amazing Students

Sydney Erickson

Sydney Erickson (Photos by Chad Osburn/UGA)

As a future physician, Sydney Erickson hopes to continue pursuing her passion of working to meet the needs of others on an individual level with her patients and at a community level through training in public health.

Alpharetta, Georgia

High school: 
Alpharetta High School

Family ties to UGA:
Actually, both of my parents attended the University of Florida. So, although I grew up watching SEC football, I am relatively new to the Bulldog Nation.

Expected graduation:
Spring 2020

Degree objective:
B.S. in biology, B.S. in psychology

Other degrees:
Minor in Spanish, neuroscience emphasis

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:
If you asked high school me to come up with the dream college experience, my time at UGA would far surpass that experience in every possible way. I cannot thank my family, friends, classmates, mentors, professors and everyone in between enough for making my experience at UGA and in Athens everything it has been.

One of my biggest highlights of attending UGA is living in the dorms freshman year. My hall, Creswell 7B, became my best friends, and my R.A., Jesse Couch, became my first college mentor. Creswell 7B is where I learned about balance and self-care, how to live with and love those who are different from me, how to swing dance, and who I wanted to become during my time at UGA. Freshman year and dorm life was definitely not glamorous all the time, but on Creswell 7B we were there for each other through the many highs and lows that came our way. Now, as a senior, I am still in close contact with my hallmates, and I even attended my R.A.’s wedding this past December.

Special Olympics at UGA is another group of people that have changed my college experience for the better. When I first joined the organization freshman year, I appreciated how we volunteered with the students and adults in Athens-Clarke County; it was rewarding to give back to the community we were living and learning in for college. After three years of proms, winter Olympics, baseball games, social events, adaptive P.E. classes and gymnastics practices, I could not imagine my time at UGA without Special Olympics. My freshman year I served on the Fundraising Committee, working to fiscally support our local teams in their competitive endeavors. I loved how my behind-the-scenes work translated into a fun experience for the Special Olympics athletes and decided to continue my involvement in the organization’s leadership. I have since served as the Social Group chair planning events for our adults, the Campus Relations chair building relationships with our UGA student volunteers, and now as a co-president equipping our board members to run the organization.

I have also thoroughly enjoyed participating in research through Ashley Harrison’s Child Attention and Autism Research/Evaluation (CAARE) lab in the educational psychology department. With the help of a graduate student, Madison Paff, I have studied disparities in access to Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education services, as well as interventions to reduce these disparities. This research is extremely rewarding and will ultimately lead to an intervention to improve service access in Athens-Clarke County. I have presented at multiple conferences and was honored to receive the Undergraduate Poster Award for presenting this research at the Georgia Psychological Association in 2019. I am grateful for the CAARE lab as well as the CURO program for instilling a love of research in me during my time at UGA.

Another highlight from my time at UGA was my study abroad experience, the Peru Medical Maymester. During this monthlong adventure, I stayed with a host family, rotated in local hospitals alongside Peruvian medical students, and learned the basics of medical Spanish. During my time in the hospitals, I met many inspirational doctors who took the time to tell us about patient care, and what it looked like in the context of Peruvian hospitals. Living with a host family, alongside my amazing roommate from UGA, challenged me to not just practice my Spanish, but to live and breathe it 24/7. When I was not in class or with my host family, I savored the Peruvian foods, survived the Peruvian taxis, and stood in amazement at many of the historical Peruvian sites.  

In the Athens community, I volunteer on the spiritual care team at Mercy Health Center, and now serve as a team leader training new volunteers. The majority of my Sundays are spent with Athens Church, where I lead in the elementary aged ministry and participate in a college women’s’ group. I also tutor and nanny a variety of families in the Athens area.

Additionally, I have had the privilege to be a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, a PAL Mentor through the Honors college, a Shop with a Bulldawg mentor, a member of the Science and Faith book group, a One UGA scholar, and a Phi Beta Kappa honoree.

I chose to attend UGA because …
With medical school on the horizon, I knew I wanted to spend as little money on undergraduate as possible. Thanks to the Zell Miller Scholarship, this criterion left me with a couple of in-state options. Although UGA’s strong science programs, amazing Honors college, countless research opportunities, exciting study abroad trips, and powerhouse athletics were enticing, the people at UGA made the school stand out. During high school, I had the chance to visit some of my best friends’ older siblings. Their sense of community at UGA was strong, and I knew I wanted that, too. Every year at UGA I continue to meet people that reaffirm my decision.

My favorite things to do on campus are …
On any given day, you can catch me walking and talking on campus. Whether I am speed walking from Gilbert Hall to the Science Learning Center with a classmate, taking a sunset stroll through the Trial Gardens to catch up with a friend, or checking in with my mom while I walk to class, UGA provides beautiful locations for my many conversations. In addition to walking and talking, my other favorite thing to do on campus is rock climb at Ramsey. Climbing is a great way to take my mind off of school stress for a little bit. The belay certification is the best $10 I have ever spent at UGA!

When I have free time, I like …
One of the biggest lessons I have learned in college is to be intentional in planning free time into my busy schedule. Whether I am at a trivia night at a local restaurant, a day outside on the lake, or just catching up on my couch, one of my favorite ways to spend my free time is with my friends. I also really enjoy reading all kinds of books during my free time. I am a very social person even when it comes to reading and am always exchanging book suggestions with my friends and professors. On a more adventurous note, I love finding fun ways to be active and have recently enjoyed attending Burn Boot Camp classes and the UGA Paddle Board Club.

The craziest thing I’ve done is …
On the last weekend of my study abroad trip to Peru, my group and I planned a night in the nearby surf town of Huanchaco (and registered the trip to our OIE itinerary, of course). We quite literally jumped on the local public bus, ready to use our freshly polished Spanish language skills for a 24-hour adventure. Our time there was a wonderful whirlwind of food, friends, dancing, surfing and taking in all the beach had to offer.

My favorite place to study is …
Sips has been my go-to coffee shop since freshman year. The front porch is so home-y, and I have met many amazing people (and dogs) there. From accidentally taking an upper level physiology course as a freshman, to the many lines and letters of organic chemistry, the countless hours of MCAT prep, and most recently, applying to medical school, Sips has been with me through it all.

On campus, the Science Library was my second home freshman and sophomore year (middle floor, right side), and I was there for a few more of the closing bells than I would like to admit. Also, I have to give a shout out to the Carnegie Library on the Health Sciences Campus for being a great change of pace toward the end of my MCAT studying.

My favorite professor is …
While every professor I have had at UGA has positively impacted my college experience, I am going to use this space to brag on just a few of them.

First, Karl Espelie has been an invaluable mentor throughout my college experience. I first met Dr. Espelie through his biology seminar and continued to build our relationship as he took on the role of my advisor. Dr. Espelie is selfless and intentional, and always goes above and beyond to ensure the success of his students. Through his seminar’s guest speakers, I was introduced to countless role models in the field of medicine, and even had the opportunity to shadow one of them this past December at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Dr. Espelie has encouraged me in my academics with pointers for my tough science classes, in my extracurriculars with his continued support of Special Olympics at UGA, and personally through his guidance during our hourlong advising sessions. I hope to come back to his seminar as a guest speaker someday!

I am also grateful for Ashley Harrison, my research mentor. Dr. Harrison brought me into her lab freshman year and has helped me to build not only research skills, but more importantly a passion for using science to improve communities. Dr. Harrison cares about each of her researchers on a personal level, and even has a display on the lab wall with our birthdays on it. From day one in her lab, Dr. Harrison works to get you involved in the projects that pique your interest the most. I barely knew what academic research was when I joined Dr. Harrison’s lab, and now, through her mentoring, I have presented at multiple conferences and hope to continue a career in research throughout medical school.

Next, Dr. Sylvia Hutchinson, my “academic grandmother”, was a voice of wisdom and reassurance during one of my most challenging semesters at UGA. As I studied for the MCAT and prepared my medical school application, Dr. Hutchinson was always there with a tangerine and a hug, reminding me to take a deep breath. When I was nervous about writing my personal statement, Dr. Hutchinson ensured me that I had great stories to tell and even helped me to figure out how to tell them. Dr. Hutchinson holds her “office hours” over ginger tofu at Thai Spoon and ends her emails with reminders to enjoy our weekends. Dr. Hutchinson is a gem at UGA, and I am so thankful to have found her.

Lastly, I have had two professors who made their course so enjoyable that I opted to take a second one with them. Melissa Fahmy’s Biomedical Ethics and Ethics of Food were my most-thought provoking classes in all of college and have challenged the ways I think about many areas of my life. Dr. Hammond’s Sensation & Perception and Biological Health Psychology have combined my interest in biology and psychology on an intriguing and applicational level. Thank you Dr. Fahmy and Dr. Hammond for four semesters of interesting classes!

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …
… Bob Goff. Bob sees the world in an amazing, unique, thoughtful, and whimsical way. His books “Love Does” and “Everybody, Always’ talk about what it looks like to love others with your actions and be inclusive of everyone through a collection of stories about his life. I could spend all afternoon listening to Bob tell stories, getting a glimpse into what life looks like through his eyes.

If I knew I could not fail, I would …
… build an assisted living community. I have been fortunate to visit my great-grandparents at assisted living facilities, and I volunteered at an assisted living facility throughout high school. Although I never had a negative experience, I always leave these facilities wishing I could do something more for their residents. After reading Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, I am inspired by models of assisted living that improve the quality of life for their residents through things like facility pets and small group kitchens for family-style meals. We are all going to get older, so I believe it would benefit everyone to design communities that make the aging process as enjoyable as possible.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …
… travel the world through the eyes of a local. Two of my favorite travel experiences, Spain and Peru, have involved staying with a local family. Through staying with families, I was able to appreciate how simultaneously similar and different day-to-day life is around the world. Furthermore, I value deep relationships and love having close friends in different countries. One of my favorite nights from Peru was when my roommate and I sat at our kitchen table with our host mom and sisters talking about love, loss and just life in general until way too late in the night.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?
I am passionate about identifying others needs, understanding them, and using my strengths to meet them. On a personal level, this looks like making warm cinnamon rolls and a spot to sit on my porch swing when I know a friend needs someone to listen. On a larger scale, this looks like revamping the adult social events for Special Olympics at UGA to be better centered on their interests. In my research, this manifests in my work to understand disparities to access in autism services and what we can do to reduce those disparities. As a physician, I hope to continue pursuing this passion of working to meet the needs of others on an individual level with my patients and at a community level through training in public health.

After graduation, I plan to …
… attend medical school somewhere that will best equip me to serve patients and communities!

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …
… jumping in the fountain after my Ochem 2 final! A group of my classmates and I struggled, survived, and sometimes even thrived through Chem 1, Chem 2, Ochem 1, and Ochem 2 together, so we decided to end our two years of chemistry with a bang! We waited for each other outside of the MLC exam room, walked to the fountain, and jumped in to celebrate. A few of the guys in our group even swam laps! Splashing through the fountain on that warm May night I was very thankful; thankful that I was done with chemistry classes, yes, but more importantly thankful for the classmates that had become family as we studied our way through the first two years of college together.