May 3, 2024
Life At Witt

Parker Hayes '24 and Branden Nicholas '24

Biochemistry/molecular biology majors headed off to Peace Corps assignments following graduation

Their paths are similar and have crossed numerous times throughout their Witt journeys. Now they will follow similar paths again, this time in the Peace Corps, following Wittenberg’s 2024 Commencement exercises, May 11.

Parker Hayes and Branden Nicholas, biochemistry and molecular biology majors, have been stellar students at Wittenberg. Hayes, from Cincinnati, Ohio, who is also pursuing a minor in data science, was named Alma Mater during in 2023, and Nicholas, from Oak Park, Michigan, who is pursuing a second major in psychology and a minor in neuroscience, was named Alma Lux at the same time. Both students will graduate with University Honors.

“They are remarkable individuals,” said Margaret A. Goodman, professor of biological and environmental science and faculty member in the biochemistry and molecular program (BMB) at Wittenberg. “They are both top students, both served as peer mentors in the introductory biology courses, and both were recognized as BMB Fellows, an award/position given to top seniors from the biochemistry and molecular biology program. These Fellows offer office hours to help students in the introductory science courses and serve as ambassadors for the program.”

"In addition to being stellar students in the classroom, both Parker and Branden conducted independent research projects with BMB faculty members and presented their results at national conferences. I have no doubt that both will continue to pass on their light in their future endeavors,” added Daniel Marous, associate professor of chemistry and director of the biochemistry/molecular biology program.

Hayes, who works as peer mentor for Goodman’s First Year Seminar (FYS) class, conducted summer research in 2022 with Kristen Cline, the John W. Barker Professor of Chemistry, and this past summer, she served as a Hagen Center intern at United Way of Clark, Champaign, and Madison Counties. A member of Gamma Phi Beta sorority and Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, she also serves as a tour guide with the Office of Admission and as a tutor in the Math Workshop, as well as being named a Civic Engagement Scholar currently volunteering as a Patient Advocate at Rocking Horse Community Health Center in Springfield. Hayes, who will graduate summa cum laude, is also in the Honors Program, serves as an Honors’ Ambassador, and is a member of the Chem Club, Witt Lits, and the Swift Society. During this year’s Honors Convocation, Hayes was the recipient of the M. Alice Geiger Award and the Copeland Community Service and Social Justice Award.

Nicholas, who will graduate cum laude, conducted research with Goodman last summer and recently presented his work at the national meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He is also involved on campus, including with the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., the Pre-health Professionals Club, Concerned Black Students (CBS), and Beta Beta Beta, the biology honor society. Nicholas was also one of the recipients of the Martin Luther King Jr. Award and the Champion Award for Community Impact during this year’s Honors Convocation.

Both students are excited to join the 63-year-old Peace Corps, a U.S. government program that trains and deploys volunteers to assist in nations and communities across the world. Hayes and Nicholas are looking forward to their assignments this summer.

“I applied because of the positive accounts of other Peace Corps return volunteers that I have known and spoken with,” Nicholas said. “It is an opportunity that allows for immense service, growth, and learning. I also applied as I knew I wanted to do something service oriented while still in the realm of health during a gap year before applying to medical school. The process involved the initial application, including a statement of purpose in response to prompts, a resume, letters of recommendation, and general information. After the initial applications were reviewed and if you met the criteria, you are then given an interview where you are asked a plethora of questions related to service, interest, health, etc.”

Nicholas made it through the rigorous process and will be assigned to Vanuatu for two years, where he will serve as a community health facilitator addressing high-priority chronic conditions. Vanuatu, located in South Pacific Ocean, is a French-speaking nation made up of roughly 80 islands that stretch 1,300 kilometers. He leaves for his assignment on July 19.

“I am very excited for this new journey and the service I am able to give with this opportunity,” said Nicholas, who plans to pursue ophthalmology after medical school. “I am expecting to learn a lot about a culture, which I am interested in, including the languages spoken in Vanuatu (Bislama and French). I also am expecting to gain insight into the ways in which health education and community health care works in Vanuatu.“

Nicholas’ interest in the Peace Corps was piqued after exploring possible options prior to medical school and seeing the important role this opportunity could play in his future plans.

“I have always been interested in medicine, and this gives me the opportunity to gain insight into the community health role and how to best educate and support a system that is lacking in resources,” he explained. “I expect that this experience will teach me a lot of useful information and techniques for when I return to the U.S.”

Hayes will be placed in Guyana, serving as an Adolescent Health Promoter. She departs in June 2024 and will not return until August 2026. Guyana is a mostly English-speaking country on South America’s North Atlantic coast and is defined by its dense rainforest. With cricket and calypso music, the country is culturally connected to the Caribbean region.

“Service has always been a central part of my life,” Hayes said. “My dad was in the military, so I grew up moving around a lot. When my family would move to a new state, we would use service to learn more about our new community and to become more involved in the community. Due to this, I was naturally drawn to the Peace Corps and its mission of serving others. I have always wanted to use my gifts and skills to help equip others, passing that light, so the Peace Corps fits perfectly for me. In this role, I will be serving in both educational and clinical settings helping to further Guyana’s health curriculum for adolescents (ages 10-14). I hope to work on other projects centering on agriculture and the women of the community.”

Hayes applied directly to a specific position of interest in the country. After making it through to the interview process, candidates are invited to serve as an invitee and undergo a clearance process.

“I am so excited for this new journey,” she said. “I literally cannot wait to serve and learn. Through this experience, I am expecting to gain knowledge of a whole new culture. I will be living and working in an environment that is vastly different from the States, so that will come with its own sets of challenges. I am excited to tackle these challenges and to learn from them. Serving in the Peace Corps has always been something that I have been interested in doing throughout high school. During my junior year of college, I decided that it was something I wanted to pursue post-graduation.

“I hope with this experience that I will learn more about other cultures and the world. I also hope to grow as a person and get experience that will help prepare me for my future. I plan to pursue a Ph.D. either in epidemiology or biostatistics, and I am interested in the study of genetic epidemiology. I am also open to any changes that may happen through my course of serving.”

Both Hayes and Nicholas feel they have really grown as people throughout their respective Witt journeys. Hayes came in as a self-described “quiet freshman,” who didn’t know anyone, but quickly built her base around service.

“I have loved my experience at Wittenberg,” said Hayes, whose mother is a member of the Wittenberg Class of 1996. “I am leaving as someone who is not afraid to speak up and who has lasting friendships. Wittenberg has prepared me for my future both academically and socially. My experiences in the classroom with hands-on challenges in lab settings has equipped me to be able to solve and face challenges in the future. Opportunities for doing research both within the chemistry department and with a nonprofit allowed me to gain skills around working to solve a problem from the ground up. I would just like to thank all the faculty and staff that have helped shaped me throughout my Wittenberg experience!

“My mom knew that I would love Wittenberg, so when I was touring campuses, she made sure it was the last campus I toured. I just fell in love. I loved the community here, and I also love the emphasis on civic engagement and passing your light.”

Nicholas has used his Wittenberg experience as a medium through which he has been able to grow as a person.  

“Since I arrived at Wittenberg, I have had the same career interest but was slightly apprehensive about how I would perform at a university being a first-generation college student,” he said. “Initially, I was concerned about making friends at a school in a state where I didn't know anybody in, but I was able to make amazing friends and even more amazing memories. Luckily, the study habits and academic practices I have been using have allowed me to be successful in my classes. Wittenberg has showed me the importance of community and building connections beyond just your classmates.

“I have also been lucky enough to have an amazing pre-med advisor that has helped me along the way all four years,” he continued. “I am forever grateful for the professors who believed in me and helped me to do my best as I progressed through college. My experience has always been service-oriented, and Wittenberg makes it a top priority that community service opportunities are readily available, which always stood out to me. I am glad I chose Wittenberg and am especially glad to have such caring and accommodating professors in biology, chemistry, and biochemistry.”

Wittenberg signed an agreement in 2010 with the Peace Corps, becoming only the second liberal arts college in the United States at the time to carry the prep program. In July 2023, Scott Rosenberg, professor of history and director of International Studies, announced that Wittenberg University was renewed for another five years as an official provider of the Peace Corps Prep Program under his leadership. The Peace Corps Prep Program is a track within the University’s International Studies major, and this latest renewal reaffirms that the University’s Peace Corps’ curriculum meets the goals of the organization as it prepares students to serve in interested countries through a rigorous combination o

Cindy Holbrook
Cindy Holbrook
Senior Communications Assistant

About Wittenberg

Wittenberg's curriculum has centered on the liberal arts as an education that develops the individual's capacity to think, read, and communicate with precision, understanding, and imagination. We are dedicated to active, engaged learning in the core disciplines of the arts and sciences and in pre-professional education grounded in the liberal arts. Known for the quality of our faculty and their teaching, Wittenberg has more Ohio Professors of the Year than any four-year institution in the state. The university has also been recognized nationally for excellence in community service, sustainability, and intercollegiate athletics. Located among the beautiful rolling hills and hollows of Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg offers more than 100 majors, minors and special programs, enviable student-faculty research opportunities, a unique student success center, service and study options close to home and abroad, a stellar athletics tradition, and successful career preparation.

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