By John R. Schirmer
Like many high school seniors, Brittany Backus of Nashville was uncertain about her college plans when she began her final semester in January. “I still had no idea where I wanted to go. Then I toured the Biology Department at Ouachita Baptist University.”
She hadn’t planned on going to OBU, “But everybody told me to go look.”
Backus made the short drive to Arkadelphia and toured the Biology Department, where she found out about the OBU Biomedical Scholars Program. She was interested, but there was small catch – the application deadline was in two weeks.
“Mom talked to me about it. I applied and decided that if I get in, I’ll go to OBU,” she said.
She decided that it would “sound good to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Sciences.”
Backus wasn’t sure when the applicants would be notified if they were accepted. Eventually, “I received a call from a Little Rock number. I didn’t know it, so I didn’t answer.”
She did answer the next call, and it came from Dr. Lori Hensley, department chair of biological sciences and holder of the J.D. Patterson Endowed Chair of Biology at OBU. Backus took one of her college days from NHS and went to meet Dr. Hensley.
Backus found out that she was one of the 10 students who had been accepted into the program. She will enter OBU next week as a member of the second Biomedical Scholars class. The students will report Aug. 7, two weeks ahead of the start of classes at Ouachita.
The scholars have already started getting ready. “All 10 of us are in a group message. I’ve already met my roommate. She’s a Biomedical Scholar too.”
The students have ordered their scrubs, which are “embroidered with “Biomedical Scholar” on them.
All 10 will shadow medical professionals during the time before classes begin.
The Biomedical Scholars Program began in the fall of 2015. Students will attend OBU for three years and graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences and a minor in chemistry.
The program offers an experimental research project with a faculty mentor, experience presenting scholarly work on and off campus, study abroad, at least 40 hours of documented community service and at least 120 hours of clinical shadowing. The program prepares students for professional programs in medicine, pharmacy and other areas.
Backus plans to study abroad next summer, perhaps in Florence, Italy, or in Costa Rica for a month to six weeks.
“I look forward to studying abroad,” she said. “OBU has some scholarships for it.”
Backus will take 18 hours in the fall semester and 18 in the spring, a heavy load for an OBU freshman. “I’m most excited about the freshman research experience,” she said. Part of it will include taking soil samples to determine bacteria and viruses found in them.
Her schedule also includes general chemistry, health professions seminar, OBU Connections and other courses to fill out the 18 hours.
Free time will be rare for Backus. In addition to her academic work, she was selected last spring as an OBU cheerleader. The squad attended camp last week in Arkadelphia before going to competition at the University of Central Arkansas. The Ouachita cheerleaders received a bid to nationals next April in Daytona, Fla.
“School definitely comes first. It will get me into graduate school,” Backus said. “Coming from Nashville, I’ve learned to balance my time.” Backus took honors courses and was a cheerleader at NHS. “I learned the idea of balancing cheer and school.” She was salutatorian of her class.
Backus will choose medical school or veterinary school before graduating from Ouachita.
“Even when I was younger, I wanted to be a vet,” she said. “I also like helping people.”
Backus is familiar with the medical profession. Her step-father is Dr. Clay Ferguson of Nashville. “I’ve done it before. Medicine is all I’ve been around,” she said. “I like sciencey stuff,” including projects such as cat dissections in her Advanced Placement Biology class at NHS.
For now, Backus is focused on moving in at Ouachita and getting started in the Biomedical Scholars Program. She said her “last big decision will be med school or vet school. The pre-requisites are all the same. I hope to decide early.”