Commencement 2012: Biology student wants to be on front line of finding cures

Aurora University health science major Jessica Nichols (left), BS '12, receives the 2012 Eleanore and Samuel McFarlane Biology Award from Saib Othman, Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, during Honors Convocation on April 20.

When she first started at Aurora University as a health science major, Jessica Nichols planned to eventually go to medical school and become a doctor. But after doing a research project as part of the AU Honors Program and working as a research intern at Washington University in St. Louis, her career plans changed.

Instead, Nichols decided to go to graduate school and earn a PhD in cellular, molecular and developmental biology. She will attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham this fall and work toward a career in the pharmaceutical industry.

“I like doing the hands-on work,” she said. “I want to be on the front line of finding cures rather than being in a clinical setting.”

Nichols was the recipient of the 2012 Eleanore and Samuel McFarlane Biology Award, presented by the AU College of Arts and Sciences to a graduating senior based on scholarship, spirit of cooperation in and contribution to the natural sciences program, and demonstration of the ideals of Aurora University. She was honored for her academic success and commitment to campus involvement and community service.

In addition to playing softball for two years, Nichols tutored students in the Center for Teaching and Learning; volunteered at the Hesed House homeless shelter, Salvation Army and Feed My Starving Children; and participated in activities such as Project Linus, which provides blankets for needy children. Having volunteered in high school at a camp for handicapped children near her hometown of Mattoon, Ill., she was excited to meet other students with the same service mentality.

“Coming into AU, I didn’t know there were so many community service opportunities,” she said. “Once I got to campus, I was glad to find out I could continue serving.”