Frances Cates ’21 Awarded UT Austin Forty Acres Scholarship

Frances Cates ’21 heads to The University of Texas at Austin this fall to enroll in the Plan II Honors Program, a four-year interdisciplinary arts and science honors major – a perfect fit for the budding scientist with an insatiable curiosity who is also a talented pianist. The Forty Acres Scholarship is a highly competitive full-ride, merit-based scholarship.
As a Certificate of Science Scholar, Frances Cates ’21, who entered Hutchison in 9th grade, has spent every summer since maximizing opportunities to shadow medical professionals in the community.

“I love science and the fact that in the medical or health care field, every day is different. There is always something new to learn, and since I am a curious person, that appeals to me,” says Frances.

To say she has an insatiable appetite for learning is an understatement. 

When she participated in Le Bonheur’s VolunTEEN program, she shadowed a nurse practitioner in the epilepsy unit. “During my time shadowing her, one of the first patients we saw was a one in a million case,” says Frances. “He had biotin-thiamine responsive basal ganglia disease which affects the nervous system. And he is only one of 48 recorded cases in the world. I eventually went on to do a research project on this disease after learning about it.”

Then, as a junior taking environmental science, reindeer in Siberia piqued her curiosity. “I began to research how reindeer in Siberia had contracted anthrax. The permafrost had melted and there were carcasses that had anthrax in them that the live reindeer would eat. The nomadic people of Siberia would then eat that reindeer, which caused an outbreak of anthrax in the area, leading to the reindeer being vaccinated,” she adds.

It’s this intellectual curiosity that the Forty Acres Scholarship recognizes. According to UT Austin, the program typically receives almost 5,000 applications from which they select 18-22 scholars. Acceptances are based on high academics, a genuine desire for a broad education in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences, and the capacity for imagination and originality.

When she can take a break from her full academic load, Frances is a member of the varsity soccer team, runs track and cross country, and serves as Peer Council president. As a member of Wilson Society, and a talented pianist, she worked on a project called Keys with Kids in which she taught piano lessons to kids at the Salvation Army Kroc Center. She credits Hutchison with helping her find a way to balance her busy schedule and do everything she wants to do.

With so many interests, where will she land? She has plans to one day work in the medical field but is unsure of whether that means she will become a doctor or work in non-profit administration. Frances’ experience shadowing Dr. Jess Wesberry, an ophthalmologist at UT Clinical Health and husband of upper school science teacher Mary Lee Wesberry, made a lasting impression. 

“It was amazing to shadow Dr. Wesberry! He works mainly with med school residents in a clinic for uninsured patients. That generated an interest in a college major of public health, which would allow me to explore how we navigate health deficits and disparities between those who can afford medical care and those who can’t.”

If she were to pick a medical specialty right now, Frances says obstetrics and gynecology interest her the most. 

“Memphis has such a high maternal-fetal mortality rate,” she says. “Being an OBGYN is definitely something I have thought about and considered because I would love to one day try to help change that statistic.”

In addition to tuition and a living stipend, the scholarship provides an enrichment stipend for up to eight semesters of undergraduate study at the University of Texas at Austin. Odds are excellent that Frances will put those enrichment experiences to good use.

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