Schermerhorn winners cited for studies, leadership, volunteerism

By Kristen Holland Shear 

Three UT Southwestern School of Health Professions students have been named winners of the 2010 Schermerhorn Scholarship Award for academic excellence, leadership and volunteer work.

Melanie Farrar of physical therapy, Emily Staff of physician assistant studies, and Amanda Willis of medical laboratory sciences received the award during a recognition luncheon held recently.

Mrs. Farrar said it is inspiring to receive the award, named for the late Dr. John Schermerhorn, who served as dean of the school from 1971 to 1986. The award has been given for 23 years.

Lois Schermerhorn (second from right), widow of Dr. John Schermerhorn, presents the annual award in the family's name to 2010 recipients Melanie Farrar (left), Amanda Willias (center) and Emily Staff (center right). Joining in the presentation are Dr. James Schermerhorn, son of Mrs. Schermerhorn, and Dr. Raul Caetano, dean of
UT Southwestern School of Health Professions (right).

“It reminds me that I’m in school for more than just the grades and that there are so many opportunities at this school outside the classroom to interact with intelligent and inspiring individuals who remind me why I’ve gone into the field of health care — to hopefully change people’s lives,” said Mrs. Farrar, who is studying for a doctorate in physical therapy.

Each student received $500 and flowers. Their names were added to a plaque of past award winners; there have been 69 recipients since the first awards were given in 1988.

Melanie Farrar

A chance encounter with an older woman at a gym that Mrs. Farrar frequented during college breaks led the Texas native to pursue a career in physical therapy. The woman, Mrs. Farrar said, had spent many hours in physical therapy while recovering from a stroke.

“She couldn’t say enough great things about the profession,” said Mrs. Farrar, 25. “Physical therapy was something I had thought about a few times, but that was the one moment I remember saying to myself, ‘That’s what I should do.’”

Mrs. Farrar added that the amount of interaction physical therapists have with patients also intrigued her.

“Since we are considered the ‘movement experts,’ we must spend time evaluating how every part of the body works together and pick out the missing/impaired link to most effectively treat patients,” she said. “I don’t know of any other health care profession that is able to spend as much one-on-one time with patients.”

Now a year into the doctorate program, Mrs. Farrar said she hopes to quickly narrow down which direction she’d like to go in the field, so she can begin looking into residency options.

“I’m still open to and interested in many different settings, but neuro rehab for all ages is where I’m probably headed,” said Mrs. Farrar, who is married to a Fort Worth-based geologist.

Dr. Patricia Smith, chair of physical therapy, wrote in Mrs. Farrar’s nomination letter that she will do well in whatever specialty she chooses.

“Melanie is an intelligent, goal-directed woman who motivates others through her words and actions,” Dr. Smith said.

Emily Staff

A January 2007 ice storm wreaked havoc across much of North America, from as far south as Texas’ Rio Grande Valley all the way to New England and southeastern Canada.

The storm, which resulted in at least 85 deaths in 12 states, is etched in Ms. Staff’s mind. That’s because the Texas A&M graduate wound up needing cervical spinal fusion surgery to treat injuries caused when the car she was traveling in during the storm hit a patch of black ice, skidded off the road and flipped over into an embankment.

“They thought I was fine, but they eventually realized I had a unilateral facet dislocation and had been about 5 mph away from becoming a quadriplegic,” said Ms. Staff, 24. “My doctor worked with a PA, which was my first real exposure to the profession.”

Three years later, strangers are hard-pressed to tell that the future physician assistant had ever been in an accident. The Oklahoma native, who spent four years of her childhood in Saudi Arabia, said she tries not to dwell on the past.

Her schedule doesn’t dispute this.

Since arriving at UT Southwestern last fall, Ms. Staff has taken an active role in class activities and is currently president of the PA Class of 2011. She also served on the student leadership council and took part in numerous volunteer activities, including working with the Women in Science and Medicine Advisory Committee.

Dr. P. Eugene Jones, chair of physician assistant studies, said the faculty nominated Ms. Staff because of her “work ethic, maturity, leadership, commitment to service and her professionalism.”

“She is an excellent representative of the qualities we seek in students and graduates,” Dr. Jones said. “Her peers clearly recognized these qualities when they elected her class president.”

Ms. Staff said becoming a physician assistant will be a dream come true.

“I love the idea of pulling together multiple pieces of information to find a cause of the problem and then work with the patient to find a solution,” she said. “Also, I love the challenge of motivating patients to better their lifestyles to prevent disease.”

Amanda Willis

Ask Ms. Willis what she’d be doing if she wasn’t studying or working around the clock and the answer is simple: reading.

“When I am not in school, I tend to read at least 10 books a month,” said Ms. Willis, a 2006 graduate of Abilene Christian University.

Ms. Willis said although she’s the only member of her family to pursue a career in health care, medical laboratory sciences is a good fit for her.

“I’m an analytical person and really enjoy working in the lab,” said Ms. Willis, who plans to graduate in December. “I am intrigued by the vast amount of information that can be gained from the laboratory and how that can be further used to diagnose and treat illnesses.”

Though her classes and work as a research technician here at UT Southwestern take up a lot of time, they haven’t stopped her from continuing to serve the community.

Since arriving at UT Southwestern, Ms. Willis has volunteered with a food bank in Alba, Texas, and the Mineola Caring and Sharing program. She also tutors underprivileged children and has served as a member of the School of Health Professions Student Advisory Council.

She said she feels compelled to volunteer because she has benefited from others’ generosity. “So many people need help and I believe that if everyone would help others in any capacity, then the world would be a much better place.”

LeAnne Hutson, program director of medical laboratory sciences, wrote in her nomination letter that Ms. Willis has the potential to make significant contributions to the laboratory science profession.

“She demonstrates high standards in everything she does,” Ms. Hutson said.

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Dr. Smith holds the Doris E. Porter Professorship in Physical Therapy.