Health Sciences student wins Alumni Association Award

McFarlane reflects on impressive journey at JMU

Hugh McFarlane, recipient of the Student Today, Alumni Tomorrow award, reflects on his journey at JMU, including the relationships he's formed and the accomplishments he's made.

Health Sciences senior and Honors student Hugh McFarlane was selected for the Student Today, Alumni Tomorrow (STAT) Award by the JMU Alumni Association, which is awarded to a student who “provides leadership and serves as a role model for their peers.”

McFarlane’s eligibility for this award lies in a long list of accomplishments he accumulated during his time at JMU. In addition to this Alumni Association award, he received the Madison Award for Academic Excellence, worked impressive summer internships in health and research, worked as a paramedic with the local rescue squad, and served as president for the JMU chapter of the American Medical Student Association and as an undergraduate research assistant, among other major achievements.

McFarlane credits the relationships he’s forged over his four years at JMU for his successes, and is most grateful for them over his other accomplishments.

He was “shocked” when he got the call that told him he had won the STAT award. “It was kind of surreal. There are numerous students here that deserve that award,” he said.

McFarlane’s journey at JMU began after attending a CHOICES event in 2020. “We elected to go to the first weekend of CHOICES, thank goodness,” said McFarlane. When he was considering colleges, the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning. The following CHOICES events that Spring were cancelled.

While at that CHOICES weekend, McFarlane couldn’t shake the feeling that JMU was right for him. He shared that he kept thinking, “This is where I need to be. This feels right.”

McFarlane’s freshman year in 2020 was atypical from a usual Madison Experience, with online classes and most of his classmates being sent home for the school year. “Freshman year was difficult for everyone. It was not what we were expecting for college,” said McFarlane.

McFarlane presents information to a small crowd. The presentation on the projector shows brain scans and says "MRI Markers or ADRD."“A few of my really good friends and I got exemptions because we worked around here,” said McFarlane. At the time, he was working as an EMT at the Harrisonburg Rescue Squad, so he continued to live in a dorm on campus. “I met my closest friends that year, the ones I will take with me once I leave here, that mean the world to me,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest things JMU has given me.”

Another influential individual in McFarlane’s journey at JMU was Santo Coleman, Assistant Professor of Health Sciences. After completing a research proposal for WRTC 103, where he studied mortality rates in Black women, McFarlane was inspired to reach out to his academic advisors in search of faculty who had similar research interests. His advisors connected him with Coleman, whose research areas aligned with McFarlane’s interest in public health issues and health disparities.

“Dr. Coleman has really been a guide in terms of my goals. I came into college thinking I wanted to help people,” said McFarlane. Coleman was able to help direct that passion into more specific aspirations. “He helped me realize my ‘why.’ That’s something I hope I’ll be able to repay him for.”

McFarlane said, “JMU gave me the opportunity to link up with a lifelong mentor that I’ll have forever. He’s provided me opportunities that I’d never would have imagined.”

One impressive opportunity McFarlane was presented with, thanks to Coleman’s nomination, was serving as the student moderator for the Madison Vision series event with Dr. Anthony Fauci and Jim Acosta ('93).

When asked about what he is excited for at the upcoming Alumni Association Awards Banquet on Friday, April 12, where he will receive his award, McFarlane was most looking forward to his family meeting Dr. Coleman again. “I’m looking forward to spending the day with people who helped shape me and celebrating with them,” said McFarlane.

After he graduates this May, McFarlane plans working at another public health research internship, studying for the MCAT, and applying to medical school. He hopes to attend either University of Texas in Houston or Columbia University in the future. 

Reflecting on his experiences overall at JMU, McFarlane recalls some feelings of inadequacy when he first arrived on campus. “I put unnecessary pressure on myself and it became very daunting. It felt like a do or die type situation,” said McFarlane.

“One of the things I’ve gathered throughout my four years is there’s no need to rush. You come here to learn. You come here to grow not only as a scholar in academia, but also as a person,” said McFarlane. His advice to current students is to take it day by day while continuing to work hard. “Put yourself out there and be brave,” he said. He encourages others to embrace mistakes, ask questions, and practice a growth mindset.

Although McFarlane is excited to become a JMU alumnus, he’s enjoying every moment of his last few weeks as a Duke on campus. “It’s sinking in a little bit more and more every day,” said McFarlane. “Parts of me are sad to be leaving this place, but I’m excited to move and go on the next journey.” He looks forward to “staying connected with the people here and hopefully one day making an impact, whatever that might look like, back here on campus.”McFarlane sits on stage in Wilson Hall with Dr. Anthony Fauci and Jim Acosta for the Madison Vision Series panel on health issues like COVID-19.

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by Lindsey Park

Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Last Updated: Thursday, April 11, 2024

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