Alyson Black ’16 lives to learn.
She reads constantly. She asks questions and seeks out the answers. Lately, she has spent a lot of time in a chemistry lab exploring the way some molecules in the human immune system respond to E. coli.
Grades are a nice result of all this work, but they are not her motivation. It is the prospect of discovery that drives her through her studies every day.
“I’ve always been curious,” she said, recalling how she used to explore the countryside around her home in rural Goode, Virginia. “My desire to explore the world carried over into school. I’m enjoying myself. I’m not stressing out trying to prepare for a test. I’m just learning.”
Alyson’s passion for learning is one reason University of Lynchburg named her the 2016 Richard Clarke Sommerville Scholar, the highest academic honor bestowed by the institution.
“Alyson’s enthusiasm for learning and applying what she learns is obvious to anyone who speaks with her for even a few minutes,” said Dr. Sally Selden, LC vice president and dean for academic affairs. She listed several of Alyson’s accomplishments: two demanding majors and a minor, independent research, experience as a Peer Assisted Study Session leader, and four summers of volunteering as a translator in Mexico. “Also, her voracious appetite for fiction and nonfiction reading exemplifies a commitment to the broad liberal arts education that is the core of the University of Lynchburg experience.”
Alyson’s love for learning did not take her to University of Lynchburg immediately after high school. She actually enrolled in a large state university, but the first day of orientation revealed a high-pressure, competitive style of academics. She withdrew, and one of her high school teachers recommended that she take a class at Lynchburg just to test the water.
It was perfect. “Everyone was so friendly and welcoming,” she said. “They encouraged discussion and curiosity. It seemed like it was more of a team effort in search of success.”
Alyson is majoring in biomedical science and chemistry and minoring in mathematics. The three disciplines cross paths quite frequently, a fact that thrills her. “The most exciting part of school is when different ideas start to converge and connect,” she said. She plans to study pharmacology in graduate school because of the way it combines her interests in biology, chemistry, and medicine.
Alyson also spends a lot of time reading from a bookshelf that includes biographies, popular science books, and literary fiction. While math and science courses present her with problems that boil down to one correct answer, she has enjoyed the vast possibilities of interpreting and analyzing poetry. She would add a third major in English if only she had the time, she said.
“Alyson is driven by what fascinates her, not by just what is required of her,” said chemistry professor Dr. William Lokar, one of Alyson’s academic advisors. “Alyson has a unique way of delving beyond what is near the surface to develop insightful responses on many topics.”
Dr. Lokar said conversations with Alyson often branch out to topics such as social issues, politics, writing, and philosophy in addition to sciences. “What sets her apart from most other students is that she embodies a liberal arts education in everything she does,” he said.
Alyson was excited when she learned that she was the Sommerville Scholar for her graduating class, but the honor was even more meaningful because of one facet of its history: Almost 30 years ago, the award went to Dr. Stephen Smith ’88, ’93 MEd during his senior year at LC. He went on to become the director of the Central Virginia Governor’s School for Science and Technology. He was the teacher who first encouraged her to think about University of Lynchburg.
Considering him one of her role models, Alyson feels she is on the right track. “It’s neat to see it come full circle,” she said.