originally published in the Denison Magazine: http://denisonmagazine.com/2011/departments/uncommon-ground/uncommon-ground-a-heady-endeavor/

A Heady Endeavor

by Fleur Metzger

In November, Julianne McCall (left) took a break from her Fulbright assistantship in Sweden to catch up with some go-getting chums in London. Cora Walsh ’06 (center) is using her Truman Scholarship to earn a master of science in health, community, and development from the Institute of Social Psychology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is focusing on the effectiveness of UK-based HIV/AIDS prevention organizations working in sub-Saharan Africa, especially Tanzania. Fulbright Scholar Mary Ann Miller ’04 is studying the history, lifestyle, and cultural and intellectual identity of the Swiss Brethren in the Universitåt Bern Science of Religion Department in Berne, Switzerland.

Of the 540 students who earned diplomas from Denison University last May, Julianne McCall ’06 was the only one with an independently designed major, “neuroscience,” and the only one who needed 103 credits to complete it successfully–three times as many required for most majors.

Why neuroscience and why so many courses? McCall’s curiosity of the field was piqued because her younger sister had been diagnosed at birth with arrested hydrocephalus, had survived a coma and many seizures, and finally was diagnosed with autism. According to her adviser, psychology professor Susan Kennedy, McCall knew exactly what she wanted to take when she came to Denison. Recognizing that neuroscience is interdisciplinary by nature, McCall decided that she needed courses in psychology, biology, chemistry, math, physics, and computer science.

McCall also understood that a booksmart neuroscientist must be research-savvy. In high school, she interned at Cleveland Clinic Neuroscience Labs and the Department of Neurosurgery. Later, while performing summer research as a Denison student, she interned at Stanford University and served a research fellowship at the University of California San Diego, studying the inhibition of nerve regeneration in humans with spinal cord injury. Her senior research, under the guidance of Denison biology professor Kristina Mead, investigated a novel method to study nerve regeneration in the crayfish olfactory system, and has been submitted for publication in Biological Bulletin. Said Mead, “She is a spectacular individual who operated more like a graduate student, taking ownership of the techniques we were using in the lab. She combined her passion for research with great leadership skills.”

But McCall’s ambitions and impact extended well beyond lab and classroom. In her “spare time,” she chaired HOPE for Autism, a student organization that nearly doubled in size to 120 volunteers under her lead. She introduced the annual Brain Bee neuroscience competition to central and central-eastern Ohio high school students. A member of the Denison Equestrian Club (for which she won a state title), Heisey Wind Ensemble, Denison University Orchestra, and Chamber Orchestra, McCall is a 2006 President’s Medalist. And yes, she graduated with high honors.

Since August, McCall has been working in the Lund University Ophthalmology Department in Sweden as a Fulbright Research Assistant. From there, she will head for her Ph.D. at the nation-leading University of California San Diego Biomedical Science Graduate Program, studying either neural foundations of autism or nerve regeneration.

McCall describes her ongoing experience in Lund as “a dream come true.” She and 15 lab cohorts are delineating the molecular signaling cascades that trigger retinal cell death in retinal degeneration, particularly retinitis pigmentosa. Says the young scientist: “I could not be happier knowing where I have come from and what I am capable of doing.”

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