A SEED IS PLANTED
Growing up in Michigan with two educators as parents, Meghan quickly realized the importance of knowledge. "I spent a lot of time at my parents' schools, which instilled a natural curiosity in me at a very early age," she explains. Science swiftly became her primary focus, as she explored its real-life applications in science-oriented groups like the young astronauts club, lego robotics camps, and a young physicians camp at Loyola University. "I didn't know exactly what it meant to be a scientist, but I always knew I would be one in some way... perhaps as an engineer, a researcher or a doctor."
Her parents fostered a rich educational environment, never ceasing to point out opportunities to learn, and Meghan absorbed everything in her path. Putting consistent focus into both academics and athletics, she became an avid gymnast, swimmer and student. As she grew, her love of science solidified. She admits, "Science was never a challenge for me, but math became stressful once I got to advanced calculus. Science just made sense to me. I couldn't see the immediate application of calculus, so I tried to ignore it, but I could always see the application of science. It's always relevant."
As a seventh grader, Meghan was given the opportunity to participate in a study on the efficacy of internet-based distance learning. The program, Educational Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) was run by researchers at Stanford, and Meghan was among the first groups of students to participate in the program nationally. Meghan thrived in this small, self-directed setting and embraced the opportunity to build one-on-one relationships with her instructors. In particular, she remembers one teacher, Connie Fellman, who introduced her to the distance learning program.
"She really helped push me further and I saw the value in non-traditional learning... I also witnessed that instructors have a human side, that they can be both a mentor and a friend."
Meghan conquered math as well as her other subjects and was thus invited to take classes in the high school as a middle school student. By junior year, Meghan had completed the entire high school science and math curriculum and the school district enrolled her in college classes during her senior year. This ultimately freed up her schedule in college to begin her work in laboratories at Michigan State University.
Meghan continued her education at Michigan State, where she attended the Lyman Briggs College of Natural Science and joined the water polo team. She earned a degree in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and eventually a Ph.D. in Genetics. While an undergrad, she began working with Dr. Karen Friderici in a lab focused on human genetics. "My job initially was washing dishes and conducting freezer inventory. I wasn't exactly conducting research, but I had the opportunity to be around people who were." Leveraging her work ethic, she seized the opportunity to learn.
"I asked a lot of questions, volunteered as much as I could, and by the end of the summer I had my own research project. It was self-guided, so it was up to me to decide how much time to allocate. I took on as much responsibility as Dr. Friderici would give me. I wanted as much experience as I could get."
As an undergraduate, Meghan ultimately developed a database and extended pedigree for a closely related community of over 1,000 people. Using these tools, she identified and studied a variant in connexin, a protein that was hypothesized to cause hearing loss when mutated.
Still exploring the world of research after completing her bachelors of science, Meghan was accepted to the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program. She began her studies abroad in Saarbrücken, Germany, where she was immersed in a German school ten hours per day. After a few of months, she moved across the country to Dresden where she enrolled classes at the Technical Institute of Dresden and interned at the Max Planck Institute – the German equivalent of the National Institutes of Health. She acknowledges the environment was intense. "When I arrived, I spoke maybe three words of German and was surrounded by many students who didn't speak English. Initially we would communicate with one another with these very rudimentary sentences, like five year olds, saying, ‘I feel tired today.' But quickly you get to the point where you can give a cab driver directions and it's extremely rewarding." Ever the student, she accepted the challenge as an effective way to learn.
"In that kind of environment, you learn quickly. It teaches you what you can do and that even if you don't know what will come next, it's going to be ok."