Pre-Med Biology Student Publishes Article in Scientific Journal

Emily Wesley founded a peer-mentoring group and landed internship at Stowers Institute

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Emily Wesley
Anticipated graduation: 2021
Academic program: Biology
Hometown: Elkhart, Kansas; Broken Arrow, Oklahoma


Emily Wesley has always been fascinated by science. Some of her most vivid childhood memories are of reading infographic books about the human body and creating quizzes for her parents from her nature encyclopedia.

“Finding joy in learning science combined with my desire to make a difference inspired me to pursue a degree in biology,” Wesley says. “I knew that I could pursue many paths with this degree, such as becoming a scientific researcher working on curing disease or a compassionate physician focused on healing others. The opportunities are endless, and I knew that I couldn’t go wrong by studying something I loved.”

Wesley lost both her parents at a young age; her mother died from brain cancer when she was 8 years old and her father died from a stroke when she was 15. While she says she still struggles with grief, she was inspired by one of the doctors who was caring for her father while he was in the hospital.

“One of my dad’s doctors was always making sure that I was OK,” she says. “If he noticed I hadn’t eaten he would ask, ‘What do you want from Wendy’s?’ Or he would stay late to let me know what the next steps would be.”

This human component of her experience furthered her interest in studying medicine and science. An Oklahoma native, she decided to go a little further from home when she was looking for the right college.

“During my time at UMKC I have learned that success is obtained through hard work and determination.” - Emily Wesley

“Kansas City seemed like such an exciting city,” she says. “There were so many opportunities.”

While the city seemed big to her in the beginning, she says the longer she’s in Kansas City the smaller it feels. At the same time her opportunities are expanding, largely through her own initiative.

“The thing that I admire most about UMKC is the inclusive and welcoming environment on campus. I think that so much is gained from having individuals from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, perspectives and experiences at the table, and it’s clear that UMKC embraces this.”

Wesley chose to study biology at the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences because of the opportunity to study alongside the six-year medical students. But she developed a strong support system and broadened her interests.

“One of the best aspects of the biology program is the tremendous support that we feel from our professors” Wesley says. “Our professors care about our success. Many take time out of their schedule to meet one-on-one with each student, ensuring that we have all the tools we need to perform well. It’s very inspiring to receive this sort of care and support from professors and to always have someone rooting for us and our success.”

To further this spirit of connection, Wesley founded the Pre-Med Peer Mentoring Program, which connects UMKC freshman and sophomores with junior and senior mentors who are pursuing medical school. While she thought meeting regularly would be a great way to connect underclassmen with upperclassmen so they could have a real-world view of preparing for medical school, she was unsure of the response because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was hoping to get 20 participants in the program. One hundred and twenty signed up.”

Members have one-on-one meetings by Zoom monthly.

“The thing that I admire most about UMKC is the inclusive and welcoming environment on campus. I think that so much is gained from having individuals from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, perspectives and experiences at the table, and it’s clear that UMKC embraces this.” - Emily Wesley

Wesley counts the mentoring relationships she’s developed as part of her success.

“Tara Allen is so inspiring,” Wesley says. “As soon as I entered the program she made a point of getting to know me.

Allen, a teaching professor and academic advisor in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, says Wesley made a strong impression in their first meeting.

“I was not surprised to learn that she had developed a student-led premedical mentoring program,” Allen says.  “She saw a way that she could help others and brought that idea to fruition, even though her schedule was already busy. I am deeply grateful to her for creating a program to help students navigate the difficulty journey of preparing for medical school.”

Beyond UMKC, Wesley has developed strong connections through her internship at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research. After hearing Scott Hawley, Ph.D., investigator and American Cancer Society research professor, speak in one her classes, she researched his work and then emailed him about opportunities. She has been working in his lab for the last two years. Hawley thinks being in the lab is the best way to understand what science is about.

“You get used to failure,” Hawley says. “You learn the discipline of being careful and record keeping. You learn that sometimes results don’t make sense. That’s the way I like to do science.

You don’t learn to ice skate by sitting on the sofa and watching ice skaters. You have to ‘do’ science.”

I’ve recommended maybe 500 students over the last 45-50 years. She’s in the top ten.” - Scott Hawley, Ph.D.

Wesley has been doing. Recently, she was first author on a paper in Chromosoma, a research magazine, a significant achievement for an undergraduate researcher.

“Emily has the skills to be accepted to a first-rate medical school, if that’s what she chooses to do,” Hawley says. “It’s more than intelligence or even creativity. It’s a passion to succeed. I’ve recommended maybe 500 undergraduate students over the last 45-50 years. She is among the very best.”

Wesley doesn’t think her success is due to talent.

“During my time at UMKC, I have learned that success is obtained through hard work and determination. I’ve reached out to people who have been willing to mentor me and I’ve learned that I can use my time and energy to help others. I struggle with grief daily, but I find meaning through the struggle and tackle every day with the passion and strength that my parents instilled in me.”

Get to Know Emily
What is one word that best describes you?

I think the word that best describes me is “persistent.” One thing that most people don’t know about me is that I lost my mom to brain cancer at age 8 and my dad to a stroke at age 15. All my goals, motivation and hope for my future are focused upon making them proud.

What’s your favorite social media channel?

While I am not active on any social media, I have recently been enjoying TikTok, like many of my peers. The creativity that I have seen on this app is astounding, and I have surprisingly learned a lot from the educational videos!

What’s your favorite spot to eat in Kansas City?

I enjoy getting a burger and pie from Town Topic with my friends. We like taking our burgers and pies to-go so that we can enjoy our food while overlooking the Kansas City skyline near the World War I Memorial.

Where’s your favorite place to visit Kansas City?

Before the pandemic, I enjoyed spending time at the Oak Park Mall. While I’m not exactly a shopaholic, I enjoyed checking out the various clothes and items they have in the stores every week. When I lived in Elkhart, the nearest mall was two and a half hours away! I think this I why I enjoy the mall so much now.

What’s your favorite spot on campus?

My favorite spot on campus is the fourth floor of Miller Nichols Library. This is the silent floor with lots of desks for studying. It’s the perfect place for me to “zone in” and be productive.


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