Author: Lea Hart
By her senior year of high school, Mallory Bryan had a list of roughly 10 colleges and universities she was interested in attending, but nothing felt like the perfect fit.
When a counselor at her high school in Warrenton, Virginia, told her about NC State and the Park Scholarships program, everything began to fall into place.
Bryan decided to apply, visiting campus for the first time as a finalist for the scholarship.
“I fell in love,” she recalled. “I knew it was exactly where I was supposed to be — I loved the energy around the Park Scholarship; I loved the emphasis on thinking and doing.”
It was clear to Bryan that the university and the Park Scholarships program encouraged varied experiences beyond the classroom walls, from internships to study abroad opportunities.
“Other scholarships at other schools gave money, but I could see the care of the Park staff,” she said. “They wanted us to succeed and were investing in our potential. They would walk alongside us in the process — that really stood out to me.”
Now an NC State alumna, Bryan can confirm that all of her hopes for college became reality. She graduated in 2021 and went on to enter the Winston-Salem Fellows, a 10-month personal and professional faith-based leadership development program. Through the program, she works as a clinical trial research assistant at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Hospital.
In high school, Bryan was passionate about health and medicine. As a childhood cancer survivor, she wanted to make an impact in the health field. At the same time, she didn’t want to be a doctor, knowing the emotional toll that role might face wasn’t for her.
Instead, she decided on biomedical engineering, where she could make an impact in medicine and have a creative outlet. She had enjoyed the humanities as well growing up, and thought engineering would give her an opportunity to pair science and creativity.
Had she not been offered a Park Scholarship, Bryan said NC State still would have been at the top of her list. The scholarship made the university affordable for her as an out-of-state student, and she credits her experience as a Park Scholar with preparing her well for the future.
That impact on her life began immediately. As freshmen, Park Scholars take a two-hour seminar each week.
“I know a lot of students might think, that’s two hours every week in a class that no one else has to go to,” she said with a laugh. “But I really appreciated that seminar and how they brought in different people from the university.”
From study abroad to the Career Center, seminar guests introduced Bryan to every resource she could access and every opportunity she could embrace.
“I knew I wanted my college experience to be more than just a diploma,” she said. “That seminar set me up on a few tracks that ended up being influential.”
Her freshman year, having never left the country before, Bryan traveled to Ecuador on an Alternative Service Break. Julie Casani, director and medical director of Student Health Services, led that experience and soon became a mentor to Bryan. Mentorship wasn’t the only benefit Bryan gained from that experience.
“In Ecuador, I realized how naïve I’d been, and how complex health is — how many factors influence a person’s health,” Bryan said. “I saw that infrastructure, access to clean water, cultural influences and so many other things all impact public health.”
When she returned to NC State, she added a minor in health, medicine and human values. That coursework helped her begin to deeply consider the intersection between science, public health and social sciences and changed a lot of her college experience. It made her determined to use all of those skill sets in the future.
Bryan added context to her global perspective when she spent a summer studying abroad in Prague, Czech Republic, funded partially by a Park Enrichment Grant. In a class there, Engineering in the 21st Century, students explored how engineering is different in a city that is hundreds of years old than in a more modern setting.
“Solutions or designs that work in one place can’t be copied and pasted in a different context without considering other factors — that goes for engineering, public health and many other areas,” Bryan said.
Those experiences and others led Bryan to team with other Park Scholars to start the Global Health Cooperative at NC State. Seeing public health as an interdisciplinary field, she wanted to create a resource where students of different majors can connect what they are doing to the field of public health. From that effort also sprung a global health minor at NC State.
Casani and Park Scholarships program staff were central to helping make the cooperative happen, Bryan said, which speaks to an aspect she holds most dear from her time at NC State: the support of caring faculty, staff and fellow students.
“The people, in the Park Scholarships program and NC State in general, are some of the most incredible people that I have ever been around,” she said. “There’s something almost unexplainable — we all have our own unique strengths and passions but have a common-core motivation.
“People cared and were doing things for the right reasons. It was not really competitive or comparative, but really about encouraging everyone to have your own story.”
That support and encouragement did not end after graduation. Bryan was accepted to graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill but chose to defer a year instead for the Winston-Salem fellowship. As someone whose religious faith is also an important part of her life, Bryan said the fellowship offered an opportunity to think about how her work and faith could fit together.
During Bryan’s senior year at NC State, her mother, already a cancer survivor, learned her cancer had returned. After supportive conversations with Casani, Bryan has been considering deferring graduate school for another year. While a young alumna can sometimes be very focused on next steps in her career, Casani put things in perspective.
“She said to me, ‘It’s OK to press pause and take that time with your family,’” Bryan said. “To have her say it’s OK to take a break, to have her encourage me to take a step back when life doesn’t go according to plan … The people at NC State really see people and care.”
Though exactly what comes next is up in the air, Bryan said NC State and the Park Scholarships program have given her the tools she needs to be ready for whatever the future holds. The Park Scholarship also allowed her to take risks and have experiences that might not have otherwise been possible, she said.
“NC State is one of the sweetest gifts that God has given me in life,” Bryan said. “It is such a great place to learn not just about your major but about life.”
This article was originally published by NC State Giving News.