While this spring's University of North Texas graduates faced unprecedented global events, we are proud of each of them for rising to meet challenges they could never have imagined when they began their college journey.
Despite all classes moving online, events and ceremonies - including commencement - being postponed or cancelled and grocery shopping complicated with layers of protective gear and handwashing, graduates of Spring 2020 are achieving their goals and working to make the world a better place.
UNT senior Allison Taylor could have let a medical condition slow down her academic plans or even her life, but instead, she's using it as inspiration to reach her goals. Diagnosed at 18 with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, commonly known as CMT, she has dedicated her life to finding a cure.
The most frequently inherited peripheral neuropathy disease, CMT leads to muscular and sensory degeneration. Allison's grandfather died from it, and the disease also affects her mother and two sisters.
"I am fortunate enough to have a mild enough case to be able-bodied," says Allison. "But it will get worse. CMT is associated with neurological pain and a slow, degeneration of abilities."
Allison grew up west of Lubbock in Smyer, Texas, and graduated first in her class of 16 students at Whiteface High School. She visited several universities but says "none of them felt as nice as UNT. When I toured UNT, I really enjoyed the warm and welcoming culture."
Beginning her career at UNT as a biology major, Allison originally planned to become a genetic counselor to help people affected by CMT find diagnoses. But she fell in love with research as a freshman, taking part in the UNT PHAGES program, Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science. The next summer, encouraged by honors college professor Tom Miles, she participated in a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates at Mississippi State University, where she studied proteins that malfunction and lead to CMT.
"Professor Miles has helped me see that I had an aptitude for research. He has been the most encouraging and warm person," says Allison. "He is the reason I got the Research Experience for Undergraduates and that I got it as a freshman."
Back at UNT during her junior year, Allison approached her neuroscience professor Jannon Fuchs about working in her lab to continue research into the mechanisms behind CMT. Soon she joined Fuchs' research group and began the work for her honors thesis, which she completed in November 2019. Her research centered around Schwann Cells and their role in CMT. Schwann Cells support nerve regeneration of the peripheral nervous system and according to Allison are "the coolest cells in the human body." Allison believes her research in understanding their role in CMT could one day lead to the development of gene therapy for the disease.
"The hardest part of succeeding in college is believing in yourself," says Allison. "It's very rare for somebody to truly have confidence and know their worth enough to act on it. I know all of us are capable of doing incredible things in our own way, but sometimes we struggle in recognizing that."
While CMT has sidelined Allison from marching band and running, she doesn't stay off her feet. In addition to being a full-time student and working in Fuchs' laboratory, she worked 20 hours a week in a local restaurant. Add to that, she spent a year spent writing her honors thesis and applying to graduate school. She will be graduating magna cum laude with a 3.99 grade point average as a Distinguished Honors Scholar.
Allison's academic and professional goal is to become an expert on her own disorder. She believes that her research is only a piece of an eventual cure. She has accepted a postbaccalaureate research position at the University of California at Davis, which is scheduled to begin in June, while also applying for Ph.D. programs in neuroscience.
"It would be super cool if my work led to a cure, but I don't have any unrealistic expectations about that," says Allison. "I think the most realistic hope I can have for myself is to live my life in a way that inspires others to do good things."