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Alumna awarded full-ride scholarship for PA program
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Alumna awarded full-ride scholarship for PA program

Gabby James (Biochemistry, '19) on track to fulfill childhood dream

Growing up, Gabby James (Biochemistry, ’19) saw few healthcare providers who looked like her. A member of the Diné Tribe, James is striving to change that for future generations. She’s one step closer thanks to a full-ride scholarship to the University of Wisconsin’s Physician’s Assistant program.

“There’s always been a part of me that wants to go back and serve my community,” said James, born in Chinle, Arizona, and raised in Fort Collins, Colorado. “I want to be a role model who inspires other kids of color to say, ‘Oh, I see someone who looks like me; I can go down that path, too.’”

“I want to be a role model who inspires other kids of color to say, ‘Oh, I see someone who looks like me.'"

James received full tuition coverage from Indian Health Services in exchange for working two years in a Native community upon graduation. She said IHS provides Indigenous students opportunities to pursue medical training to increase the quality and access to healthcare in Native communities.

“I always knew I wanted to go into healthcare and end up in medical or nursing school, but the physician’s assistant profession spoke to me,” she added. “PAs receive similar training in fewer years of school [than doctors] and step into those community roles a lot more quickly. They have a solid base of medical knowledge and the flexibility to go into whatever field they want. Also, job satisfaction, availability, and security are high.”

James discovered Fort Lewis College through a summer soccer camp and fell in love with Durango. After high school graduation in 2015, she enrolled at FLC, played Skyhawks soccer for a year, and then turned all her focus on the Biochemistry program.

“I cannot speak highly enough of the Chemistry Department; I wouldn’t be who I am today without it,”  James said. “The level of education you get is phenomenal, and you learn how to make mistakes and problem-solve when it doesn’t go according to plan. I owe where I am in my educational and career journey to that department.”

Between her classes and labs, James tutored students in math, biochemistry, and chemistry courses. One summer, she researched organic chemistry synthesis alongside Kenny Miller, a professor of Chemistry.

“That research project gave me the opportunity to pursue experiences I wouldn’t have received in a bigger school,” James said. “And Dr. Miller was a huge mentor to me, helping me navigate the different spaces of research. Every single professor in the program is a genius and absolutely loves what they do. They take all they know and turn it into something attainable. The program is stressful and hard, but they do a good job building a family of support. They’re so invested in seeing us succeed, helping us figure out what we want to do and how to get there. That’s the beauty of Fort Lewis: the relationships we build with our professors.”

"[The faculty is] so invested in seeing us succeed, helping us figure out what we want to do and how to get there. That’s the beauty of Fort Lewis: the relationships we build with our professors."

James attended a master’s program at Colorado State University after graduating from FLC with a degree in Biochemistry in 2019. She finished the program in May 2021 and moved to Madison, Wisconsin, for the Physician’s Assistant program, with plans to complete the accreditation by May 2025. Per the IHS scholarship requirements, she’ll serve her two-year term wherever she’s needed most, hoping to eventually return to the Navajo Nation.

“Sometimes I questioned coming from a small liberal arts college, considering that it would change the quality of education I got, but it was actually going to a smaller school and building those connections that opened doors I never would’ve found at a larger university,” James said. “People care about all of us students and our success and futures. You can form a community that will help you succeed and discover things you couldn’t imagine yourself becoming.”

 

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