TGS Alumni Weekend Panel

The alumni panelists sit at a table

The 2024 Alumni Weekend events for The Graduate School at Augusta University were well attended. The panel discussion was standing room only and included the 2024 Distinguished Alumnus Charles Eldridge, Ph.D., the 2024 Outstanding Young Alumnus Austin Young Shull, Ph.D., College of Science and Mathematics Associate Professor Jennifer Cannon, Ph.D. (Physiology, 2006), Director of Outreach and Engagement at the Georgia Cyber Innovation & Training Center Todd Gay (Master of Business Administration, 2018), and Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness Mickey Williford (Master of Public Administration, 2005).

Dr. Eldridge shares his wisdom with students. The 2024 Distinguished Alumnus was Emeritus Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology at Wake Forest School of Medicine – J. C. “Charles” Eldridge – who received his Ph.D. at AU in 1971 in Endocrinology (now the Department of Physiology).

Dr. Eldridge trained with seminal leaders in the field of endocrinology including Drs. Greenblatt and Mahesh. After serving as a research associate at MCG in 1973 following his graduation, he became an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, Charleston (1973-78) before moving to Wake Forest where he spent most of his career, from 1978 until the present, teaching and researching at Wake Forest School of Medicine. He had a highly productive career and remains committed to providing research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. Clearly, Dr. Eldridge is an alumnus we are proud to call our own.

During the discussion, Eldridge told the students in the room to remember that “The world rewards what you can do, not necessarily what you ‘know,” and that you should “put your knowledge to work” into your education now and what you learn in the future. He said, “Your profession wants you to do things, but you need knowledge to do those things. You might not be able to do much yet, but AU will help you learn how. You can do this.” He encouraged everyone to “promote yourself with poise. You need poise and practice, and they gave us plenty.” When asked about family life and dating while in graduate school, his response was “study now” and “you’ll find somebody later.”

Students sitting at table laughing

The 2024 Outstanding Young Alumnus was Austin Young Shull, associate professor in the Department of Biology at Presbyterian College. He received his Ph.D. s in 2016 in Biochemistry and Cancer Biology and has continued his research career in cancer biology. He is one of ten professors in South Carolina to be funded under a SCINBRE (South Carolina IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence) award in 2019 for a Developmental Research Project Program award. Dr. Shull remains committed to AU; he is currently a visiting scholar at the George Cancer Center as part of the Faculty Inclusive Excellence Initiative. He told the audience that while “I’m not good at everything,” others are, so “use your network and build life-long connections.” As a student you should “get involved” and try to develop yourself to become a well-rounded person and “make friends.”

This sentiment was echoed by the rest of the invited alumnae that made up the rest of our invited alumni panel. Jennifer Cannon agreed that students should “learn how to make it work,” including time-management. “Be persistent,” she said, “The Graduate School at AU helped me with time management. I have so many hats to wear – it’s good that I learned how to divide my time carefully between all the different parts of my career.” Todd Gay said that to become successful takes “teamwork and good communication skills” and that “Groupwork helped me learn to communicate and to bring people together.” He wanted current students to “learn how to talk to people and be prepared to pivot if your job is not what you wanted – be open to new possibilities.” Mickey Williford concurred. She said, “We [indicating the panel as a whole] come from different backgrounds—and while I was in school, I observed how my professor dealt with difficult personalities, which taught me a lot about how to handle conflict in the workplace.” She encouraged everyone to learn how to get along with people they might find difficulty to work with; “challenge yourself to learn more about conflict management and self-growth.” She also said that “All of the graduate programs at AU are worth their salt!”

Eldfiridge summarized the comments for the day, saying, “Many of you will not become professors or academics, but the world is wide open, and you have great training. You can do what you want. You might need help from friends or colleagues but let your passion guide you. Talk to your faculty [mentors] about options and opportunities. If you feel led to do something, keep after it. Your passion will carry you through.”

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Written by
Dr. Wendy Turner
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