Sarah Anderson wrapped up her undergrad degree at the University of Albany in 2023, after studying brain impulses and such in the neuroscience lab of professor Annalisa Scimemi, whose areas of speciality include the synaptic basis of neuropsychiatric disorders.
It was challenging stuff. And rewarding. “She pushed me beyond what I thought was my academic threshold,” Sarah said. “I really found my niche.”
Like others in her age group, Sarah felt it was advantageous to take some time to let the material percolate for a year before going on to medical school. In this gap year, Sarah discovered CFES-Brilliant Pathways and went to work at Moriah Central School to inspire younger students in the way that she herself has been influenced by a mentor.
As a Fellow in the CFES GEAR UP program, Sarah counsels high school students on the opportunities presented by post-secondary education, and helps them learn how to fill out college applications, acquire financial aid and to become ready for higher education.
“I love working with CFES,” Sarah said. “We do so many positive things, and it’s been a perfect fit for me.”
Sarah herself graduated from Moriah Central School, “I know almost all of the students — some of us were even on the same sports team,” she said.
The work is important to her, particularly in light of the town’s economic and demographic challenges. Per capita income in the former mining town is $29,000, $10,000 less than Essex county as a whole, and almost $20,000 less than the state average. Most residents have to commute a half-hour or more to find work.
This economic situation is one of the explanations for a widening college gap between young men and young women. Many of the boys are eager to get out on their own and make money. Asking them to defer a steady paycheck can be a tough sell. “They feel the need to make money now, and they don’t want to be in debt,” Sarah said.
Still, she said it’s intensely gratifying to open a student’s eyes to the possibility of post-secondary education where they may not have seen those opportunities before. It’s not a matter of leaning on them, it’s a matter of exposing them to careers they never knew existed.
“If I can give them the information, they can make the decisions for themselves,” she said.
Sarah also prepares students for college life, which helps them stay in school. Being from a small community, students often feel anxious about a radically new lifestyle where they will leave their friends behind.
She advises her younger peers to join clubs, attend events and “sit down and talk to the person next to you. The big thing I tell them is that when you feel like coming home, don’t come home.”
After completing medical school at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, Sarah herself plans to come back home to the Adirondacks, where she plans to do her part to alleviate a critical shortage of doctors and healthcare practitioners. Meanwhile, her time at CFES has been rewarding both for the students and for herself. “I’m really happy for the opportunity CFES has given me,” she said.