JACKSON, Tenn. – May 7, 2004 – Brian Taylor, junior math major and physics minor at Union University, always wanted to be a teacher. Even in high school, he loved working with children and had a passion for helping them learn. So when he came to Union University in 2001, he enrolled as a math major, with plans to teach high school math after graduation.
Those plans changed last summer when Taylor participated in the Pediatric Oncology Education Program at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis. Along with five other students from Union and 70 students from across the nation, Taylor worked in the cancer center helping with radiation therapy and diagnostic imaging. The program there combined his love for children with his background in mathematics and physics, and Taylor knew that he had found something he could devote his life to. He decided to pursue graduate work to get a degree in medical physics and radiation therapy.
“I knew this was something I wanted to do,” Taylor explained as he described his work with cancer patients. “I can use my skill in math and quantum mechanics to help children. After those weeks last summer, I decided to continue my education in medical physics.”
Taylor is going back to St. Jude’s again this summer—this time as the winner of an undergraduate fellowship in medical physics. Awarded by the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, the $4,000 fellowship allows its recipients to work for 10 weeks at a distinguished medical facility doing research in medical physics laboratories. The selection process is highly competitive; only eight to 10 fellowships are awarded nationwide, and Taylor’s outstanding work at Union University provided the basis for the award.
“This is a highly competitive fellowship, and it is as honor for Brian, but he deserves it,” said Dr. David Ward, professor of physics at Union. “He has always been a top-notch student and has both the academic strength and the heart for kids to do this.”
Taylor, however, praises the faculty in the mathematics and physics departments at Union and is reluctant to talk about his role in winning the fellowship.
“Everyone in both departments has always been there for me,” he said. “This award is more about them than it is about me, because they always take the time to sit down and help me with anything I need help in. Dr. Hathcox was the one who encouraged me to apply and helped me do it.”
After finishing the fellowship and getting his degree in medical physics, Taylor plans to work in diagnostic imaging and medical research. Working primarily as a liaison between the doctor and the radiation therapist, Taylor will help develop treatment for cancer patients.
Interestingly enough, Taylor is no stranger to the medical profession, but so far in his life he has been at the receiving end of medical treatment. When he was born, he was deprived of oxygen due to a doctor’s error, resulting in cerebral palsy. He was later diagnosed as having spastic quadriplegia meaning that all the motor functions in his body are affected, including his mouth and tongue. Taylor was required to have therapy until he was 15 years old and then again his senior year in high school.
However, Taylor does not let his handicap influence him and declares it is not a factor in his life. Now he even considers it an advantage, because he is more familiar with the medical terms and will be able to empathize better with his patients.
“I never even think about my disability,” he said. “I have been blessed because it could have been much worse. God has been good to me.”
He admits going to college was difficult at first, because no one knew him, and many students were unfamiliar with cerebral palsy.
“They had to learn I was like everyone,” he explained. “But Union has a very friendly atmosphere, and I have made so many friends here.”
Meghan Lang, a junior education major who has become a good friend to Taylor, said, “Brian is a wonderful inspiration to me. He doesn’t let anything affect his passion for learning, and he is always so happy and cheerful.”
Taylor is excited about continuing his studies at St. Jude’s this summer, and he looks forward to working with the children there.
“Brian is an excellent student,” said Dr. Kyle Hathcox, professor and chair of the physics department at Union. “He has not let his handicap stop him, and he is conscientious, dedicated and does well in whatever he pursues. We would like to have more students like him, and this fellowship is a real honor.”
by Mariann Martin, '05