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Student Profile: Madeline Waggoner

Student Profile: Madeline Waggoner
Photo: Brett Buchanan

madeline waggoner

Madeline Waggoner’s fascination with the biological basis of behavior began during her freshman year at Highland Park High School in Dallas in the classroom of an inspiring teacher.

“My teacher, Mrs. Leediker, was just brilliant,” says Waggoner. “By the second semester, when we studied DNA and genetics, I was hooked. I thought it was just the coolest thing ever.”

Waggoner, who’s now a first-year biology major, was so compelled by the subject that she helped convince Leediker to create an entirely new course, “Medical Microbiology and Pathophysiology,” for students who wanted more than the normal two years of biology.

The class used a variety of tools—including the TV show “House”—to approach the study of infectious disease. It also required students, for their midterm semester project, to submit a proposal to the Young Epidemiology Scholars competition.

Waggoner hypothesized that there was a relationship between a deficit of omega-3 fatty acids in children’s diet and the incidence of learning disabilities. By comparing the student population at a Dallas-area school for learning disabilities to a control school, she demonstrated a statistically significant relationship. Her results were so impressive that she was selected as one of the 60 national finalists in the competition.

The biological die was really cast for Waggoner, however, the following summer, during a stint at medical camp. The campers were given the chance, one day, to see the cadavers on which local medical school students practiced.

“One of the doctors took out a brain,” says Waggoner, “and asked us if anyone wanted to hold it. I volunteered, put on gloves, he put it in my hands, and that was it. That was my epiphanic moment. The world stopped. ‘Oh my God,’ I thought, here’s this thing that looks like a humongous blob of nothing and yet dreams come from it. Memories are stored here. It controls our personality.’ That was the selling point to me.”

Waggoner hopes to do research while an undergraduate in the college, but her main ambition, she says, is to be a doctor.

“I want to help people,” she says, “and I think being a doctor is a way that I can do that while also working in an area that is fascinating to me.”

This article also appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Focus magazine.

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Saturday, 04 February 2023

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