Saginaw Township native Jennica Young this fall has been accepted into a Ph.D. program in psychology at Southern Illinois University's Brain and Cognitive Science program.
Young's next academic challenge will follow her graduation from Saginaw Valley State University, where she is set to receive a bachelor's degree in psychology in May. She will join some 1,000 classmates earning degrees from the institution.
Young's passion for studying traumatic brain injury is about more than academics and career ambitions, she said. It's personal.
Seven years ago, her sister sustained such an injury when she hit the back of her head on a large metal pole, and has been on the road to recovery ever since.
"She's just now seeing improvements," said Young, who hopes her contributions to the science one day will help speed up such recovery times.
Eventually, the 2008 Heritage High School graduate wants to work in a research facility at a medical center such as the Mayo Clinic, advancing the world's understanding of conditions including traumatic brain injury.
Charles Weaver, an assistant professor of health sciences at SVSU, was Young's instructor in four classes. Weaver recognized in her both a knack for science and a genuine empathy for the human condition -- two qualities he believes makes her an invaluable addition to neuroscience studies.
"Jennica displayed a unique ability to systematically apply subject matter from one class to the topic presented in another," he said. "It was wonderful to behold.
"She also never gave the impression that her schooling was just about getting the highest grade," Weaver said. "Jennica is a public servant. She cares about human suffering, and wants to alleviate it. Graduate school, and a career in neuroscience pain research is her way of getting to do just that."
Early on, she eyed a major in SVSU's pre-health professions curriculum.
"After a lot of shadowing and thinking about it, I didn't know if I wanted to work as close to people," Young said. "I wanted to do more background work. Eventually, I found the neuroscience lab and liked research a lot more."
That lab -- SVSU's Brain Research Laboratory -- exposes students to neuroscience research and offers opportunities to present findings at conferences and seminars across the nation.
Young is also one of a select number of students to receive funding from SVSU's Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Student Research and Creativity Institute, a program supporting student research projects. Her project involved studying the effects of an enriched environment -- stimulation via physical and social surroundings -- on traumatic brain injuries.
Young's SVSU journey extends beyond classrooms and laboratories.
She participated in two trips for Alternative Breaks, an SVSU program sending students to volunteer for causes across the globe. Her first excursion involved building houses for Habitat For Humanity in West Virginia. The second trip allowed her to volunteer at a substance abuse clinic in Atlanta.
She's also volunteered at the Special Olympics event SVSU hosts annually.