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Dec 4, 2013

Realizing your dreams

Hillcrest Scholarships unleash honors students full potential and vault them into promising futures.

Michelle Amaya, Melinda Adams and Carly Starke
Michelle Amaya and Carly Starke talk to Melinda Adams, assistant director of the JMU Honors Program (center).

Hillcrest Scholarships vault honors students into promising futures
By Jan Gillis ('07)

What if bright, engaged students could pursue their passions out in the real world and see what happens?

Honors Advisory Council members established the Hillcrest Scholarships to give JMU honors students that opportunity, and the experiences of the inaugural award recipients Carly Starke ('14) and Michelle Amaya ('14) illustrate the potential these scholarships unleash.

Read why the Honors Advisory Council took a philanthropic approach to the future

Starke, a biotechnology major and winner of the Hillcrest Scholarship for Research, had a very specific focus: "I love finding what no one else has discovered," she says. Her scholarship experience working at the Food and Drug Administration on the development of a new typhoid vaccine gave her a chance to be at the forefront of discovery.

Amaya, a biology major, had no doubts about what she would do if she won an award. "Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor," she says. Through the Hillcrest Scholarship for Service/Leadership she gained training as a nurse's aide and traveled to La Paz, Bolivia, for a hands-on experience with Child Family Health International.

The experiences were empowering for both students.

"FDA was my first experience in government research," Starke says. "Every day was different. I could look at my results and change conditions of my research the next day to see what would work better." She got the chance to share her work with leading scientists and researchers at a National Institutes of Health poster session. "I talked to people who I look up to. They were interested in what I did, how I conducted my research and my findings," she says.

Amaya's work with doctors and mentoring impoverished and at-risk orphaned youth affirmed her childhood ambition. "CFHI in Bolivia was my first medical humanitarian trip and a milestone in my life. Without the scholarship, I wouldn't have had that moment of affirmation — of knowing it's my calling to serve others through medicine."

Both say their experiences helped them define their future.

'My ultimate goal is a Nobel Prize. I know it's a big goal, but I can push myself toward it.' — Carly Starke

"I want to do vaccine development," Starke says. "I enjoy the molecular biology aspect of it, as well as testing out conditions. My ultimate goal is a Nobel Prize. I know it's a big goal, but I can push myself toward it."

Amaya says, "In Bolivia, I saw doctors who lacked the extensive equipment that is common in America use their hands to diagnose conditions. I knew I would like to do that." Realizing that her hands might well be the only tools at her disposal in the future as a doctor abroad, she is applying to osteopathic medical schools. "Many of these schools have a mission of global health and serving others, while adopting a holistic approach to wellness. Your hands become your tools," she says.

In establishing these scholarships, Honors Advisory Council members were determined that the recipients would have the potential to make important contributions to society in the future. Certainly, the first Hillcrest Scholars have a firm grasp on their future direction. And, their goals make the future look brighter for us all.