Erickson Merkel Foundation: Tell us a little bit about your family and friends growing up, and any positive effect that they had on your formative years.

Lauren Volkman: My parents have always been very supportive of me. They always encourage me to do my best in everything I do, and I always strive to make them proud. I am thankful for the schools they sent me to because I think my teachers there had a positive impact on my life. I also try to surround myself with close friends who I can trust.

EMF: When you were going through elementary, middle or high school, did you have a clear idea on what you wanted to do when you ‘grew up’?

LV: Going through school I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. Even now, as a biochemistry and secondary education double major, many career paths lie before me. I haven’t yet decided which path I want to take, but I’m okay with that. I’m excited about the opportunities I will have when I finish school, and I look forward to seeing what my future will hold.

EMF: When was it that you realized that only you could be responsible for your future, and in what ways did you take control of your life after?

LV: I always knew that I was responsible for my future, and I’ve always felt pressure to make the right choice regarding school and my future career. I took control of my life by getting three jobs to try and avoid student debt. One job is during the school year and the other two I work over the summer. I also continue to work hard in school and try to get involved in school activities and events in my community.

EMF: Were there any people you looked up to when you were younger, and why?

LV: I looked up to my teachers a lot when I was younger. Their kindness and support are what inspired me to consider being a teacher.

EMF: Do you have any mentors now? If so, can you tell me about them and what they mean to you?

LV: Still today, my teachers are mentors to me. Every new teacher I have inspires me in some way. They have instilled in me a love of science and medicine, and they make me excited to learn more about biochemistry.

EMF: Are there any people living or dead who you draw inspiration from?

LV: I draw a lot of inspiration from my mom. When she was my age, her parents didn’t want her to go to college because they didn’t think women had a place in the working world. My mom disagreed and worked to have enough money to pay for college on her own. Because of her hard work and determination to succeed, she was able to graduate from college debt free. She then got a job that ended up financially supporting my family. She far exceeded her parents’ expectations, and I’m proud to call her my mom.

EMF: Are there any causes that you feel strongly about, that you would like to give back to someday, or that you’ve been able to help out so far?

LV: I’m pretty passionate about being Pro-Life. If given the opportunity, I would like to help mothers who feel that abortion is the only option to find alternative solutions.

EMF: When did you get your first job, where was it, and what prompted you to get it?

LV: I got my first job at Arby’s when I was a sophomore in high school. I was planning to take a school trip to Nicaragua that summer, and I needed money to pay for the trip. I worked there for a year and a half before getting a different job.

EMF: What keeps you motivated through long weeks of work and study?

LV: I feel very motivated to do my best in everything I do. I’m proud of the hard work that I do, and I want the people around me to feel proud too. They know that I can succeed, and I don’t want to let them down.

EMF: What are your personal and professional goals?

LV: I really would like to inspire and help people in whatever I decide to do in life. If I become a teacher, I would want to inspire my students to do their best and dream big. I would encourage them to know that they all have the opportunity to succeed, just as my teachers encouraged me. If I become a medical researcher, I would feel proud knowing that my research was improving the lives of others and grateful for the opportunity to help people.

EMF: Why do you think it’s important for today’s undergraduates to have a clear understanding of debt and finances?

LV: Having a clear understanding of debt and finances now is going to be better for students in the long run. It will relieve a lot of stress if you have a plan for how you’re going to pay for college. It’s also important to realize that once you pay for college, it doesn’t stop there. Eventually you will graduate, and then you’ll need to have a plan for paying bills, rent, and taxes. The lessons you learn about finances now will be useful for the rest of your life.

EMF: Are you planning on any further academic pursuits after completing your current degree?

LV: If I choose to be a medical researcher or teach at a university, it will be necessary for me to go to graduate school. I haven’t looked into any specific schools yet, but I still have time to figure it out if that’s what I want to do.

EMF: After dedicating yourself to work and study, what do you do to wind down?

LV: I like to watch Netflix with my roommate. It’s a great stress reliever for the both of us. I also enjoy reading, and I love spending time with my friends.