An Emerging Scholar

“I want to be both a doctor and a person.”

– Mackenzie Fuller ’19

Hometown: Adel, Iowa
Majors: Music, Biology
Minors: Chemistry, Spanish
Campus Activities: Student Body President; A Cappella Choir; Jazz Band; ALMA; Dutch Brigade; Emerging Scholars Program
Experiential Learning: AmeriCorps, helping Burmese people resettle in Iowa
Research Project: “Performance Anxiety and its Effect on Heart Rate in Undergraduate Music Students” with Assistant Professor of Music Sarah Van Waardhuizen
Scholarships: Presidential Scholarship, Central Music Award, Trustee Scholarship, Class of 1955 Scholarship, Matthew 6:3-4 Scholarship, Central Heritage Award, Journey Scholarship
Career Goal: Medicine

Mackenzie Fuller ’19 was determined not to attend Central—but you’d never guess it now.

“As a daughter of two Central alumni, I’d gotten a bib from Central in the mail shortly after I was born,” Fuller says. “But as a rebellious teenager, no way was I following tradition and going to Central.”

She planned to attend an urban university to study music. But when she showed up there for an audition, she was left—forgotten—in a practice room for two hours and never did get to sing. That’s when her mother persuaded her to at least visit Central’s campus. “I hated her the whole car ride home because I loved my visit so much,” Fuller says.

During that trip, a student listened to Fuller sing and said, “I think this professor needs to hear you.”

“I ended up in the office of Associate Professor of Music Gabriel Espinosa ’79 for an hour that day,” Fuller says. “I sang for him, we talked about life and music. It wasn’t planned, but I felt an immediate connection.”

Her decision was made. “I didn’t know whether I’d be able to afford to come to Central, but with the scholarships I got, it turned out to be less expensive than a state school,” she says.

As a student, Fuller most appreciates how broad and deep her Central education has been. She’s racked up two majors and two minors that span the sciences, the humanities and the arts. As a participant in Central’s Emerging Scholars Program, she took an Honors Seminar her first year in which students explore various topics from an interdisciplinary perspective. She selected a seminar on stress with Associate Professor of Sociology Dawn Stiemsma Reece ’89, which she found “fascinating and helpful.” She also added an honors enrichment credit to courses so she could work closely with professors to dig deeper into subjects that particularly interested her.

To cap it all off, she’s engaging in research on musical performance anxiety. “My voice professor, Sarah Van Waardhuizen, had just finished her Ph.D. dissertation on motivation in music education. She described her research process to me and it just sounded like so much fun,” Fuller says.

“I ended up creating my own project from conception to applying for funding for equipment to an institutional review board review that confirmed my research methods were ethical. I collected self-reported performance anxiety from student musicians along with heart rate data during practice and during various performance settings. About 50 percent of student musicians struggle with performance anxiety, and I wondered if we could modify music curricula to combat that,” Fuller says.

Although she says “the brain fascinates me,” her interest wasn’t purely academic: “I had really bad performance anxiety myself, so this was a way to combine my interest in biology with my interest in music,” she says. As of this writing, her analysis of the data isn’t complete, but Fuller has already benefited from her own work. “My performance anxiety has gone down,” she says. She also believes her research will make her a more attractive applicant to med school.

Her reasons for studying medicine are also personal. “I’ve had a few weird medical things happen to me, so I’ve been around doctors my whole life,” Fuller says. “I’ve had some really awesome doctors. I’ve also had some really awesome doctors that didn’t know how to be people. I want to be both a doctor and a person. I’m really interested in the way our bodies work. I could study that for the rest of my life.”

Perhaps she will. But she’ll also likely remain an intellectual omnivore—a tendency that her multifaceted Central education encourages. She’s liked so many of her courses she shrugs helplessly when asked to name a favorite professor.

“I have no idea,” she says. “There are so many people that have influenced me. I took Music Theory 1 with Associate Professor of Music Mark Babcock ’91. That course kicked my butt! He doesn’t let you not work hard, but I loved it. I took all four music theory courses he offers. I also loved organic chemistry 2 with Assistant Professor of Chemistry James Dunne. Organic 1 was hard, but the subject builds, and by Organic 2, it just clicked like someone snapped their fingers.

“I feel really well prepared for med school,” Fuller concludes. “I’m studying for the MCAT exams now, and I feel like it is a review for me. I think that is telling of the quality of the science programs here. Coming to Central really was the best decision I’ve made.”

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