Published on July 14, 2021
All his life, August Hemmerla has loved learning.
A homeschooled self-starter, he took many opportunities to broaden his perspectives. When he was 15, he studied in Ecuador where he lived with his adopted sister. Once he returned, he took community college classes.
When he turned 18, he landed a scholarship and again studied abroad — this time in China. His travels broadened his scope and enthusiasm for knowledge.
His parents, both humanities professors and Mizzou alumni, have always encouraged him to pursue an array of disciplines. It’s why Hemmerla considered majors as varied as Mandarin and mathematics.
But, ultimately, Hemmerla forged a different path toward a biomedical engineering and biochemistry degree instead.
“I’m the odd one out in the family,” Hemmerla says. “I found myself wanting to go toward the STEM fields.”
Originally from Ottawa, Kansas, Mizzou was a natural choice when he learned about its biomedical engineering program (KU doesn’t have one). With Mizzou alumni parents, the family visited Columbia every chance they got.
“My grandparents lived near St. Louis, so whenever we drove over, we’d stop by and walk around campus,” Hemmerla says. “It made it an easy choice.”
Hemmerla believes his unusual experiences in schooling — from high school to college abroad to community college — better prepared him for a four-year university.
“I think for some students, when they make that transition, it can be like hitting a brick wall,” Hemmerla says. “I didn’t feel that so much. I was very fortunate.”
Hemmerla has been involved with tutoring throughout his studies. It was another easy choice; he enjoys helping others learn.
“It’s a really fulfilling job,” Hemmerla says. “It’s helping students not just learn the content but also helping them get better at studying in general.”
Now a senior at Mizzou, Hemmerla has been chosen as a Cherng Summer Scholar, a program through which students submit a research or artistry proposal and, if chosen, are provided opportunities to pursue that research for the summer.
Hemmerla’s project studies a novel synthetic biodegradable neuroprotectant, which helps cells deal with oxidative stress. The goal is to help with peripheral nerve injuries, and the polymer he’s developing would be made to degrade and release a gas to help counteract the stress from the injury.
Yve Solbrekken, the coordinator of science tutoring at the Learning Center, has worked with Hemmerla throughout his time as a tutor.
“August is a lover of science and an extremely caring person,” Solbrekken says. “I am so fortunate to have him on my team.”
When he’s not studying or researching, Hemmerla loves camping and hiking at national parks. His favorite, Mesa Verde in Colorado, is unique in the way it preserves human history — specifically Native American culture.
Hemmerla plans to continue his studies in a PhD or medical scientist training program. Right now, he’s set to pursue a master’s degree at Mizzou through the Department of Biomedical, Biological and Chemical Engineering. And his goals keep him going every day.
“I would like to make a dent in the field, specifically tissue engineering and biomaterials,” Hemmerla says. “But I do have a love for learning and I’m always eager to take more classes than I probably need to.”
2021 Cherng Scholars
Year, major: Senior, biological sciences
Hometown: Lee’s Summit, Missouri
Research or artistry proposal: Unmasking the identity of superheroes: revealing the markers on terminal Schwann cells
“I have always been fascinated with organisms’ neurological and muscular systems. There is limited research that has gone into terminal Schwann cells and their physiological role, so being able to contribute to this effort is not only rewarding for me, but also to future research into how these cells play a role in the development of ALS and other neuromuscular diseases.
“I chose Mizzou because of the opportunities I saw the first time I visited. The number of undergraduate programs is incredible, and something I urge any incoming or current student to pursue. I have seen how Mizzou puts their students first by challenging us and supporting us as we grow.”
Year, major: Junior, sociology
Research or artistry proposal: Examining the effect of online news usage on racial acceptance
“I will be exploring multiple news sites to see whether they perpetuate harmful attitudes about different races through their storytelling. I have also decided to conduct an experiment that explores the intersection of race and gender by narrowing in on prejudice as it relates to the authors working for these news sites.
“As a journalist, it is exciting to be able to study news articles and content post-publication, especially since most journalists do heavy research on the front end of publishing.
“Going into college, my priority was centered around finding a really great, hands-on journalism school. After doing my research, I felt like I was constantly led back to Mizzou.”
Year, major: Senior, journalism
Hometown: Kennett, Missouri
Research or artistry proposal: Measuring Legal Literacy: How News Media Cover Sedition
“In researching my project, I found that there’s little to no academia that discusses legal literacy and journalism. I’m looking into something that doesn’t have a well-established field; it’s like pioneering research that bridges my interests in journalism and law.
“I chose Mizzou because it’s where I felt like I could grow into the most authentic version of myself. At Summer Welcome three years ago, if you’d have told me I’d end up loving research and wanting to pursue a career in media law, I don’t know if I’d believe you. Mizzou let me grow into the student, researche, and person I was meant to be.”
Year, major: Junior, economics
Hometown: Highlandville, Missouri
Research or artistry proposal: The Impact of Corruption on Trust in Government
“This project is a great opportunity to utilize the skills I’ve learned in other programs and fellowships toward an independent research project. The subject of the project is timely, unique and a great way to begin independent research.
“MU faculty have helped me by showing me what the field is like. Getting the opportunity to look at it with faculty members has solidified my interest in economics. Secondly, getting to see what different faculty members are doing has really shown me the range of topics economics can address.”
Year, major: Senior, photography
Hometown: West Plains, Missouri
Research or artistry proposal: The Motherload: A Visual Documentation of Working Missouri Mothers
“This project has the potential to give voice and narrative to an overlooked issue that is a reality in our society. I chose it because it’s close to me; the majority of my life, my mother was working two jobs, going to school and raising my sister and me.
“My MU mentors have given me resources, education and support beyond what I could have ever imagined. I chose Mizzou because I was looking for the best place to get an education close to home.”
Year, major: Senior, linguistics and physics
Research or artistry proposal: Aspects of Tiriki Tone and Historical Tone System Changes in Luhya Language Varieties
“This project is a continuation of my work as an ASH Scholar [a program from the MU Honors College and the Office of Undergraduate Research supporting work in art, social sciences and humanities]: Documenting Luhya Together. I am extremely excited to be able to go to Kenya to conduct field work for a month this summer!
“My primary mentor for this project, Dr. Michael Marlo has been crucial throughout my career at Mizzou and now this summer. He is in expert in documenting languages and has been able to show me time and time again how to go about research activities when I am uncertain of what to do next.”
Year, major: Senior, film production and art history
Hometown: Cape Girardeau, Missouri
Research or artistry proposal: Redefining the Female Gaze: Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
“My project sits at an intersection between feminist theory, queer theory and film theory, which are all elements that I am both deeply interested in and affect my daily life. In addition, I pursued this project to celebrate a film that I love and the positive effect it has had on audiences everywhere.
“I chose Mizzou because of the amazing faculty in the film production program, specifically Professor Kamau Bilal who has become a close friend.”
Year, major: Senior, biological engineering
Hometown: Marengo, Illinois
Research or artistry proposal: Accurate Age Estimation of Multiple Freshwater Fish Species Using Deep Learning of Otolith Images
“My project aims to create a machine-learning program that can assist conservation scientists in gathering age data on bony fish populations as they complete various research projects. This was inspired by being involved in collecting age data on a black bass conservation project as an undergraduate research assistant.
“I visited the Mizzou in 2017 and I was impressed with the opportunities available for academic success. Specifically, the people in the College of Engineering made it clear they care about each student’s success and are invested in making your education worthwhile.”