Ladies and gentleman, sharpen your pencils with me — I’m going back to school.
In three (or four, or five) years, I will be graduating with a PhD in Strategy and Innovation from Capella University. This day has been a long time coming, and I cannot begin to describe how I am feeling.
Come with me and I’ll tell you a story.
In 2010, I was in a car accident. I was hopelessly lost and when I turned around, a city bus hit the driver’s side door of my small eco-friendly car. Being in a bad accident is like waking up in a strange place where everything stops and nothing makes sense. It can take weeks for that shock to fade. Months pass before you realize how truly lucky you are. You do not remember the smell of gasoline or the burnt-chemical smell from the air-bag. You remember blind, frantic pain. And then, you remember a deep, quiet, and still darkness. In short, I attended my own life’s greatest tragedy.
I did not know what God had in store for me then, but He put His strongest angels in charge of protecting me that day. No, nine broken bones is not fun, but when you are suddenly given something back that you never thought you could lose, you instantly look at your life differently. There is no going back. You are different now, full stop. And this is not a wholly negative thing, healing from trauma can also mean finding new strength and joy. I am a better person today because of one horrible moment in my past. Healing is to acknowledge and wear your new life—scars, wisdom, and all—with courage and bravery. Trauma has changed me permanently, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
Before the accident, I was a typical 22-year-old. I was graduating in 6 short months and I was falling in with my future husband. After the accident, I was given a wheelchair and told to resume my life. Surgeons had reconstructed my face with a metal butterfly net—I shouldn’t look like myself, but I do. Metal plates realigned my bones—I shouldn’t be alive, but I am. A year later, I walked across the graduation stage on my own two feet. In that moment, I decided to spend my life advancing science and medicine through research administration. So, a few years later I went back to school yet again, completing a Master of Science in Research Administration online with Central Michigan University. But now, I need a doctorate to truly open the next door on my leadership journey.
“Why not become a scientist?” you ask. Truth is, the sciences and I have never gotten along. I am fascinated by the beauty and mystery of science—in all its forms and branches. But my brain is wired for solving a different kind of problem. I’m the person they call when it’s a 5-alarm administrative fire and there are millions of loose-ends flying in the wind. I can quickly take control of an out-of-control situation; look at the big picture to see our end goal and then zoom into the details to prioritize what needs to happen immediately, who needs to be notified, what needs to be approved, and when things need to be canceled in the interest of time. I’m a project manager with a taste for curiosity that rivals the stamina of Thomas Edison. I bring everything I have learned to every new project I approach. This level of adaptability is the single most important skill in the 21st century.
I have a knack for organization and a passion for pediatric translational research. My role in the research process is not to spend time performing my own line of research, in contrast I focus on supporting and finding practical and alternate applications for the research that others have done. I work at Children’s Mercy Hospital where, over the last few years, I partnered with others to build the Children’s Research Institute. We are performing the highest quality research to find answers to pediatric medicine’s most challenging questions. This year we started construction on a state-of-the-art nine-story research building. When it opens, I cannot wait to begin the next phase of my career. The Children’s Research Institute is my career home. This is what I will to spend my life doing.
Yes, I have seen a great many things in the world, but only a handful of stories truly define our lives. I picked some of them up in the unluckiest unlikeliest of places, but many are of my own making. If I want to continue to collaborate with physicians, scientists, and administrators in my community and around the world, I need a degree that will keep up with me. I am committed to bringing pediatric research from bench to bedside and beyond—are you?