The power of a positive role model

CATEGORIES: News, Students
Person smiling at camera
Maya Walker. (Photo by Keo Pierron)

As an emergency room scribe at MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center this year, graduating senior Maya Walker (’21 biology) was hoping to obtain clinical experience for medical school. She did gain that, and much more, as she witnessed the compassion of healthcare professionals during a pandemic.

“The ER is one of the only places in the medical field that you can visit without insurance or having a way to pay for it,” she said. “You see a wide variety of people who you need compassion for even if you don’t understand what they are going through.”

Walker assisted doctors with their notes and charts, freeing up their time to focus on patients while she learned her way around an ER. In the future, she plans to pursue ER medicine or a specialty as an obstetrician-gynecologist.

And while buying gas for those many round trips from Ames to Des Moines adds up, LAS scholarships helped fill the gap – by filling her tank.

“Scholarships helped me gain experience to further my career without worrying about finding a part-time job that pays well,” she said.

A world of choices

Walker, who grew up in central Illinois, chose Iowa State for its campus, as well as the opportunities to go beyond Ames through study abroad.

“When I visited the campus, I liked how the campus was all together,” she said. “I liked the programs that were available, especially the study abroad program. At a lot of schools, being a STEM major and studying abroad isn’t an option. I liked that, too.”

Walker’s biology major gave her flexible options to plan her class schedule, and she fulfilled her dream to study in Cork, Ireland, during the spring 2020 semester, prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her classes, such as Irish and Viking history, also helped her fulfill required general education credits.

“Even though I got sent home early, I was able to go all around Ireland, visit London and experience things I never would have otherwise,” she said. “I had traveled in high school, and it was completely different. Being able to do it on my own made my experience more impactful.”

Inspiring others

Now, Walker wants to ensure others can envision big dreams, too. She has served as a student role model in Iowa State’s WiSE program for three years, visiting elementary afterschool programs, as well as a summer counselor for the STEM InCyte camp.

“You would go to an afterschool program in downtown Des Moines, and it was mostly African American students,” she said. “It was powerful to be able to teach science and for them to see a person who looks like them teaching them and to see they can pursue a career or education in science.”

It’s a feeling that Walker experienced herself as a young student, when her dad became her inspiration and role model for pursuing science.

“I grew up in a very white area, and the person I had to look up to was my dad,” she said. “He was the environmental science teacher at our high school. He is one of my main motivators. He taught me to believe in myself.”

Christa Jackson, associate professor of education and director of the STEM InCyte camp, said Walker has been an outstanding teacher, leader and role model for young students.

“Maya not only made a positive impact on students during the camp, but she also positively influenced their perceptions of STEM and STEM-related careers,” she said. “Maya truly made a difference in the lives of the middle school students.”

Walker, who has also been a residential assistant and active member of the Minority Association of Pre-Med Students Club, wants to continue being a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion when she enters medicine. She plans to start the professional school application process this summer after graduating from Iowa State this spring.

“My dad showed me that it’s really powerful to have someone who looks like you to make you feel comfortable,” she said. “When I started looking into the medical field as a whole, I realized there are a lot of inequities. One of the first steps to address that is to make the field more diverse. I want to enter the field and then make it easier for people like me to enter it as well.”