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2022-23 Eberly Scholars: Donovan Weekley

Major: B.S. Biology
Hometown: Lexington Park, Maryland

How did you choose your major?

Donovan Weekly, Photo

Ever since elementary school and throughout high school, my favorite subject had always been the life sciences, whether it was ecology, genetics, molecular/cellular biology, and other more specific fields of biology. During an internship with the St. Mary’s County Health Department near my hometown, I had also developed an interest in both epidemiology and the mechanism by which pathogenic infection presents as disease. Upon learning about the biology undergraduate program at West Virginia University, I saw that there was an opportunity to pursue my myriad of interests in biology without having to focus on one specific field of biology. In other words, the biology major allows me to pursue a wide range of interests without having to sacrifice other curiosities regarding the secrets of life.

How would you explain your major to a new WVU student? What advice would you give them?

Biology is the study of life, but we often poeticize the field and say that we are trying to find the secrets of life. We intend to answer questions such as the following: why is DNA double-stranded and not single-stranded? Why does replacing an alanine residue with an aspartate residue in a peptide lead to phenotypical differences in an organism? How does COVID-19 lead to a loss of sense of taste and/or smell? What biochemical interactions allow us to sustain life on Earth? In other words, we want to figure out why and how the Universe has so perfectly organized a set of chemical reactions that allow us (and other species) to exist.

If a student wants to do well in this program, I think two things are necessary: curiosity and focus. Biology in itself is not too hard for any one person; the difficult part is maintaining the perseverance to master the content you learn in class.

How has your major prepared you for your future career?

As an aspiring social epidemiologist and clinician, the biology program at West Virginia University has not only provided me with the resources to garner scientific competency but it has also allowed me to pursue my interests in the humanities as well. My major paired with a minor in Medical Humanities and Health Studies has allowed me to take coursework in rural gerontology, medical terminology, sociology, and psychology, all of which are integral to my future understanding of how systems of oppression translate to disease in both the communities and patients I intend to treat one day.

What was the hardest (Eberly College) class that you loved? Why?

BIOL 310: Advanced Cellular/Molecular Biology taught by Dr. Ashok Bidwai is by far the most difficult class that I have taken during my time at West Virginia University. Though the class is difficult, it inspires so much curiosity in the field of biology. Dr. Bidwai artistically overturns all that we have learned in previous coursework and teaches us more complex models of how biological systems work. Furthermore, he connects many of his teachings to clinical presentations as well.

What makes you feel connected to WVU?

The camaraderie among biology students is what makes me feel most connected on campus. Being in a rather difficult program like biology, there is a sense of community that is built among the program’s students in the face of a challenging yet intellectually stimulating curriculum. If many of us do well on a test, there is a general sense of pride that is felt throughout each of us. Additionally, if we do not live up to our own expectations, then this is seen not as a sign of defeat but rather a reason to work harder and be more supportive of one another.

What does it mean to be a Mountaineer?

To be a Mountaineer is to be an advocate for both yourself and your community. In the Eberly College of Arts and Science, we strive to understand not only the scientific implications of knowledge produced but to also understand how it has the capacity to change humanity. While it is important to be competent in science, it is equally important to understand how science impacts human beings. There is no better instance of this than the COVID-19 pandemic. While scientists worked behind the scenes to utilize mRNA to create wonderfully impactful vaccines and therapeutics, there were public health professionals and social scientists working to elucidate the impacts that the virus had on marginalized populations, including foreign countries of low socioeconomic standing. In doing so, life science and the humanities came together to understand human suffering, not only from a molecular point of view, but from a humanitarian one as well. A Mountaineer is one who can appreciate the value of both and use this knowledge to become an agent of change in the future.

Do you have a favorite professor or instructor? What makes them special?

My favorite professor is Dr. Huebert-Lima. Ever since I began my undergraduate career here, Dr. Lima has had unwavering support for all my ambitions. This unwavering support is also accompanied by a keen sense of practicality that allows me to actualize my goals more effectively. Furthermore, Dr. Lima is not just a stellar adviser and scientist but also an advocate for students. As a teaching professor, she focuses not only how to successfully teach students but how to make all students, especially BIPOC students, feel welcome and comfortable in her educational spaces. She does so by not only being forward in her ideas regarding justice in education but by also seeking to mesh biology and social justice together to contribute to the next generation of socially aware scientists.

What was your reaction when you found out you were an Eberly Scholar? How has this opportunity made a difference in your life?

I was pleasantly surprised! The same week that I found out about this award was the same week that I had an impactful conversation with a mentor and WVU alum Cody Mullens about applying to graduate school that encouraged me to begin looking into Master of Public Health in Epidemiology programs. Of course, I could not ignore the fact that applying to graduate school can become an expensive process. This said, I look forward to utilizing the funds from this scholarship to offset application and living expenses.

About Eberly Scholars

In association with the ongoing generosity of the Eberly family, the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board established the Eberly Scholars program in 1988. Each year, up to 25 students majoring in the arts and sciences are designated as Eberly Scholars. They are provided with scholarship support in recognition of their outstanding academic achievement. This award is the Eberly College’s most prestigious scholarship honor for undergraduate students. 

Meet all of this year's Eberly Scholars.