Pursuing Her Dreams

When Jenny Park made the decision to attend the University of Missouri, she wanted to make sure to find a degree program that would help further her curiosity in neurodegenerative diseases. Park found two programs at Mizzou – biological sciences and psychology – that have provided a good combination to aid her in her pursuit.

“In high school, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a dementia center, and I really became fascinated by some of the extreme behaviors that patients exhibited,” said Park, a junior from Bloomington, Indiana. “I wanted to understand the underlying mechanisms of those behaviors and what’s happening in the brain. With these two degrees, I get the best of both worlds and have had the opportunity to really expand on my original curiosity.”

Park’s interest recently took her overseas, where she participated in Oxford’s Direct Enrollment program and studied neuroscience in England. She has participated in a variety of projects on the MU campus as well and will be able to pursue even more experiential opportunities after being named a Goldwater Scholar. She was one of four Mizzou students to earn the award.

Jenny Park

“It was an amazing honor to receive the scholarship,” Park said. “It was nice to be acknowledged for the past three years of hard work and dedication. I also felt like it was great encouragement on a personal level that I’m heading down the correct path, and that I should continue to move toward my dreams and pursuing them.”

The Goldwater Scholarship is one of the most prestigious national scholarships in natural sciences, engineering and mathematics in the United States. A total of 413 scholars were named this year, from an estimated pool of 5,000 college sophomores and juniors.

Park, who is pursuing the Honors certificate at MU, worked with the Office of Global and National Fellowships throughout the application process. 

“I really don’t think I would have been able to push through without them,” Park said. “There is a lot of writing and a lot of self-reflection involved, and if I had to do it by myself, it would have been very overwhelming. I was also at Oxford while I was applying, too, so I spent a lot of time on Zoom with the entire Fellowships team. 

“While it was a ton of work, I would encourage students to apply for these types of scholarships. The award is obviously great, but the questions they ask you, it really allows you to reflect on the path you’ve chosen, as well as the future you want to build.”

Park spent a full semester at Oxford last year, where she dove into higher-level neuroscience courses. She was paired with a professor for one-on-one study and was able to dive into more in-depth conversation.

“It was such a worthwhile experience,” Park said. “I learned so much about neurodegenerative diseases and gained a much better understanding of some of the mechanisms that cause these issues.”

During Park’s time as a Tiger, she has been part of the Cognition, Aging, Sleep, and Health (CASH) Lab and the Health Neuroscience Center (HNC) as an undergraduate research assistant. She also took an Honors tutorial focused on translational neuroscience and is currently serving as a teaching assistant for a chemistry course. She said she eventually would like to be a physician and do her own research related to neurodegenerative diseases. 

“I’ve received so much support from across campus,” Park said. “The wonderful thing about being a double major is that I get to interact with faculty across two programs. I’ve been able to interact with so many amazing professors.”

While Park has been active academically, she has also made an effort to connect with students throughout campus. She created the Mizzou Empowers Refugees and Immigrants (MERI) organization, which is focused on refugee and immigrant advocacy and offers tutoring to students as well. She also leads People Advocating for Growth and Empowerment (P.A.G.E.), a book club that features high school students from several states, as well as South Korea. That group was started during the pandemic and the money paid by the participants is donated to the City of Refuge.

“I’m very passionate about advocating for immigrants and refugees,” Park said. “My parents are immigrants, and I have several experiences that allow me to connect with others going through the same thing. There are a lot of pressures that come when you’re trying to fit into a new culture, and I want to help others know that they belong and that their voices matter. I want to utilize my resources to create a small difference in the community and set a good example for others.”