As a bright and curious teen in rural Appalachia, Meghan Francis’s path toward a career in a biomedical career began after an enlightening interview at Washington and Lee University, where she was offered a full scholarship during her senior year in high school. In the end, she opted for an in-state college, but newly-intrigued with the idea of becoming involved in ground-breaking research, she applied for a summer medical research program at Tufts University, where she conducted research in the laboratory of Dr. John Coffin in the Molecular Microbiology Department. The virology research she was involved in there focused on breast cancer, and this work opened her eyes to the possibilities of her involvement in biomedical sciences advancements.
In addition to science and medical research, Meghan, 22, has a keen passion for helping others. A former Anchor at Ravenswood High, Ravenswood, West Virginia (sponsored by the Pilot Club of Jackson County), she and her Anchor friends helped deliver Easter baskets to elderly nursing home residents, promoted BrainMindersTM, and enthusiastically conducted other volunteer service projects. She was secretary for her Anchor Club during her senior year, the same year she applied for, and received, a PIF Scholarship to help finance her future studies in Biology at West Liberty University, West Liberty, West Virginia.
Although her science studies have been daunting, Meghan holds a 3.5 GPA, and is a committed volunteer at WLU. In addition, she is a Provisional Pilot and attends meetings whenever possible at the Pilot Club of Pittsburgh, the club closest to her school. Last spring, she and some other WLU students volunteered for a Habitat for Humanity project in inner-city Macon, Georgia, home of Pilot International Headquarters. During her stay in Macon, two local Pilot Clubs provided lunch to the group, and Meghan and her friends took time from their building tasks to visit Pilot’s Heritage Center and Gardens. Meghan is sold on Pilot, and the organization’s work for brain health and brain safety resonates with her.
“Pilot International and its work with brain-related disorders hits close to home because I have watched my grandmother battle the early stages of Alzheimer’s,” she said. “Two of my grandmother’s siblings died from the disease, and it is troubling that one day I may have to watch my father fight the same battle. In 2009 and 2011, I was awarded the PCI Scholarship because of my desire to continue the fight against brain-related disorders and to help increase the demand for research that will lead to cures.”
Meghan’s senior year in college has been consumed by long hours of study and by applying for graduate assistant programs across the country. So far, she has been invited to interview at six top schools in her chosen field, with hopes to work specifically in Innate Immunology, an esoteric science she describes as “the body’s first line of defense against infection that begins with the brain.” Neuroimmunology, “the crosswalk between the central nervous system and the immune system” is also an option. Her top choice for graduate studies is Duke University, North Carolina, where she will interview for acceptance in February. She aspires for an eventual PhD in Immunology.
“My desire to become involved in research stems from my curiosity about the immune system’s intricate involvement in every organ system of the body. My ultimate goal as a scientist is to make a contribution in this field of study and to bridge the gap between scientific knowledge and public understanding.”
She expresses a genuine thankfulness for her three PIF scholarship awards to date.
“In the past four years, I have continued to develop the essential skills of creativity, inquiry, and communication, and Pilot has helped me with that. By participating in summer programs at Tufts (twice) and Stanford, I have gained exposure to top research programs and I know I possess the work ethic needed to succeed in biomedical sciences.”
Thankfully, Pilot International and its Foundation have been with Meghan since she began fulfilling her dream of helping improve the lives of others.
“Pilot is an organization with a fantastic mission. My goal for branching out with Pilot is to assemble collegiate and graduate affiliations with Pilot associated with Provisional Membership. Many students like me would be eager to join if they knew more about it. Students, especially those interested in the sciences or the medical field, would be excellent communicators for Pilot’s volunteer service mission of promoting healthy brain activity.”