Helping and healing

NEW YEAR, NEW FACES: They’ve come from as far away as Sydney, Australia, and as close to home as Chapel Hill, N.C. This year’s incoming first-year class of 3,960 enrollees at UNC features award-winning researchers, artists, directors, dancers, writers, community activists, athletes – and even a certified gerbil breeder. All are bright. All are hopeful. And this week, we meet five of them.


Whether she ultimately decides to focus on medicine or public health, first-year student Allie Polk aims to help people get better, faster.

She already has started.


Last summer, the Nashville, Tenn., resident spent seven weeks at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., conducting research on the potential of stimulating the body to produce more glutathione (the body’s most prevalent antioxidant). “Ultimately, it could help people recover faster from invasive surgery, maybe even burns,” says the graduate of Harpeth Hall School.

The two-sport athlete’s summer studies were a result of working at the Medical Center during her school’s “Winterim” the previous year. “I had never done research before, and not knowing whether I wanted to go into research or medicine, I thought it would be extremely interesting – and it was,’’ she says.

She went on to intern at the Vanderbilt trauma unit, where she was amazed at how a doctor’s effort could make such a profound difference.

“For example, I’ll never forget the recovery of a teenage boy after a near-drowning accident,’’ she wrote in an email. “At first, he couldn’t oxygenate his own blood or respond to commands. Within a week of intensive care, though, he was able to walk around the unit and speak with his family again.” 

Polk still hasn’t decided on her exact college path, but as a lover of science and math “and learning people’s stories and what makes them tick, and how they function in their daily lives,” she sees medical-related studies in her future.

The former high school editor-in-chief would also like to work for The Daily Tar Heel and play intramural lacrosse at Carolina, among other things.

“At Carolina, I hope to become a well-educated and engaged member of society because I feel like a lot of times in high school I kept my head down and studied to get the good grades, but I didn’t look up as much to see how I could apply that to the world around me,’’ Polk says. “And I think UNC is really good about teaching students to look outward from what they’ve done, and how that applies to a larger scale.”

Read more about UNC’s Class of 2017.

Story by Robbi Pickeral of University Relations.

Coming tomorrow: A Change Maker 

From Monday: Physicist With Rhythm 

From Tuesday: An Independent Athlete

Published August 20, 2013.