April 29, 2008
Looking back on her time at Rice, Laura Kelley has a lot to consider.
"I chose to come to Rice because I felt I could get a great education at an institution that focused on undergrads in an intimate academic setting," Kelley recalled. "The Texas Medical Center right across the street really appealed to me as I am pursuing a career in medicine.
"I was also really confident that I could compete for a classy athletic department with a coach that would make sure school would come first. Also, I just really love Rice kids. They are smart, quirky, and down to earth and I felt like I would fit in well," she added.
Kelley did more than fit into the flow of campus life, she became actively involved in the process and in her last year as an undergraduate, she was elected as president of the Student Association.
In her time in office, Kelley served as the key undergraduate representative to Rice President David Leebron as well as to Rice's faculty and administration. She worked to strengthen policy regarding curriculum, recruitment, and student life. Kelley also served as head of the Student Senate. She managed a budget of $15,000 and organized campus-wide initiatives and events to unify the student body through political, social, and academic mediums.
"Being SA president was just an awesome experience. I was set from the start because I got the chance to work with great students--Matt Youn and Sarah Baker, the internal and external vice-presidents, respectively, were really fantastic. And because so many of the execs and senators has previous experience in the SA (which hadn't happened in a few years), we were able to get down to work right away," explained Kelley.
Kelley is also a campus intern with Democracy Matters, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit group that focuses on campaign finance reform.
"I decided to do this because it would be something cool to do with my last semester during an election year, and a great way to channel the attention politics is attracting right now (because of the presidential election) into a cause that can continue past the end of the race."
Kelley coordinated a chapter of the group, channeling students into community activism for pro-democracy social change with a focus on public financing in elections and civic engagement through voting.
"Campaign finance reform is really important to me, because it permeates every issue, from healthcare to sustainability, and makes our representatives more accountable to their constituents (and not special interests). I thought this would be similar to student government, but it is definitely more grassroots organizing, and after finding out how hard it is, I have even more respect for the nonprofit sector!" said Kelley, who also serves as a liaison between campus and national organizations.
Kelley also interned with Baylor College of Medicine at USDA's Children's Nutrition Research Center. She conducted an independent research project in epigenetics as a research intern for principal investigator Dr. Robert A. Waterland. Kelley explored the epigenetic regulation of pediatric nutritional influences and focused on body weight regulation.
Last summer, Kelley was selected from a highly competitive applicant pool to participate in Baylor College of Medicine's SMART (Summer Medical and Research Training) Program.
"It was really exciting to get a first-hand glimpse at how scientific knowledge is produced and get to work in an on an independent project." She attended seminars and participated in clinical shadowing as a part of the SMART program.
"The collaboration that goes on between all the great minds in one place is mind-blowing as well; it makes me want to practice in a research and teaching medical center in the future." said Kelley.
But these outside involvements didn't diminish Kelley's commitment to student government at Rice.
"One thing that I am really happy about is that we brought back the use of resolutions. The SA is the only organization on campus that has these in our toolbox, so it was time that we started using them again!" said Kelley.
Kelley was also able to work more closely with the Dean of Undergraduates to get departments to go through the SA when they need representatives for university standing or special committees.
"Making this process more fair and transparent gives undergrads a better voice around campus." explained Kelley.
Kelley instituted online polls at sa.rice.edu that worked very well; students were able to give the SA feedback on everything from social events to course evaluations to the comfort of dorm rooms.
"We got over 700 students to respond to a poll about Spring Recess, which was helpful to represent the opinion of the student body to the Faculty Senate when they voted on the academic calendar."
Kelley and the SA gave students a better voice to the departments around Rice, and restored some faith in the SA as an effective organization. Kelley also raised awareness about sustainability around campus.
"Our environmental committee applied for an Envision grant that helped fund `EcoRep' positions at each college to raise recycling and environmental awareness. Not all of the sustainability measures passed, but bringing the issue to light raised awareness and hopefully reflects to the rest of the university that this is an important issue to students." said Kelley.
SA president, varsity athlete, intern, student. . .
"Last year was busy, busy, busy, but I had a great time and look forward to hearing about the upcoming term. I'm especially excited about a committee that got formed at the end of my term to do research on the history of the student senate, especially on its size. Hopefully they can formulate a plan to expand the senate to keep up with the expanding student body to keep representing undergraduates!" said Kelley.
Kelley is deferring her acceptance to the University of Kansas Medical School for a year, during which she plans to do volunteer work and travel in Africa, probably Tanzania.
But before heading abroad, Kelley has a summer internship in international health advocacy for a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C..
"I'm hoping to squeeze in some campaigning for Senator Obama before I leave as well," she promised.
In addition to medical school, Kelley would like to pursue law degree or a master's in Public Policy, which would give her the training she needs to do health advocacy work.
"I'm passionate about healthcare as a vehicle for social justice and public policy, and would like to use my clinical experience as a healthcare advocate. I'm especially interested in clinical trial study design in developing nations, particularly women's rights." said Kelley.
"I've definitely done a lot of reflecting over the last few weeks about what it will be like to be finished at Rice. I'm sad to leave, but I feel like Rice has prepared me to think for myself and set my sights high, so hopefully the best is yet to come."
With all she has accomplished in her time at Rice, Laura Kelley is truly on track to be one of tomorrow's leaders.