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William Yakah: Connecting the dots

Feb. 28, 2018

William Yakah is a junior majoring in neuroscience and is a College of Natural Science Dean's Research Scholar. Yakah is an international student who hails from Accra, Ghana.

One of my most memorable days at Michigan State was my first day of classes. It felt like the rising sun on a horizon; one that carried clouds of new opportunities to explore, semesters of self-discovery and a huge atmosphere where I could challenge myself, grow and learn.

When I was in high school, I always imagined being at a place where my curiosity knew no boundaries - a big university where I could major in anything, literally, and could switch between different majors without any limitation. Coming to MSU was that dream come true.

Although I was excited to figure out what college was all about, part of me wanted to stick with the old, grades-focused self, being fed with plates of well-barbequed materials from professors and regurgitating it out for a letter grade. But as an international student, I was yearning to be more than a GPA; I wanted to take classes outside my major, pick up new hobbies, talk to professors about their research and figure out how the information I learned in one class was related to others, or applied beyond the classroom in real-world situations. It was this thought process that led me into a research lab.

Throughout freshman year, I switched between research labs, from organic chemistry to plant biology and, finally, to human nutrition, in search of an interest. Although these fields had less in common with my neuroscience major, I enjoyed the ability to dig deeper into a topic for the fun of it. I loved translational research because I became very interested in an interdisciplinary approach to research topics that sought to improve quality of human life. I'm so thankful to the professors I've worked with, such as Dr. Jennifer Fenton, who have guided my thinking and challenged me in many ways-not only to ask important questions, but to learn to connect the dots.

One of my favorite experiences is the ability to take classes about topics that interest me. I've had the most fun taking non-major required classes in geography, Spanish, communication, philosophy, etc., and learning how topics in these classes define our world. The learning experience outside of the classroom cannot be overstated - from community service/volunteering to swing dance to intramural soccer on weekends, I could not have asked for a more engaging community at MSU.

My experiences at MSU have led me to many other opportunities, including a summer internship at Harvard Medical School after my sophomore year. From doing research with world-leading experts to shadowing many physicians, it was incredible to relate concepts from different classes I'd taken to real-world scenarios. Everything just made sense at that point. I could see how pieces of concepts in physiology, communication and philosophy intertwined to give me a holistic perspective on a subject.

Reflecting on these experiences, I realize how much of a well-rounded thinker I've become, and how I yearn to connect more dots to address challenges in infant nutrition. But then I also realize this is what being a Spartan is all about. I can't wait to see how these experiences reflect through my journey to medical school and beyond.