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Ashley Victor wearing graduation gown in front of Memorial Union

Medical school awaits this biology senior

By Srila Nayak
Ashley Victor, senior in biology

Ashley Victor decided in her junior year of high school that she wanted to be a doctor. Her four years at Oregon State University as an Honors biology major only strengthened her resolve and made her realize how much she wanted that career path. So, after graduation, Ashley will head to the Oregon Health and Science University — one of the top-ranked medical schools in the nation — to study medicine.

Ashley’s cherished dream is to become a pediatrician. Intent on specializing in the pre-medicine option in the College of Science, She chose biology primarily because she thought it ought to be a natural choice for someone interested in medical school. Slowly but surely, her love for biology was kindled as she progressed through her classes.

“I fell in love with the breadth of biology. I took classes in genetics, biochemistry, ecology and evolution and just enjoyed learning everything,” said Ashley.

In addition to her coursework, she conducted research in the nutrition laboratory of David Dallas in the School of Biological and Population Health Sciences. Assisted by an interdisciplinary research grant awarded by the Colleges of Public Health and Agricultural Sciences, Ashley took the lead in analyzing alternative pasteurizing techniques in donor breast milk. This research culminated in her Honors thesis.

She investigated how different processing techniques to kill bacteria also kill lipase, an enzyme present in breast milk that breaks down fats, thus helping the baby to digest breast milk. Ashley will continue working on the project this summer as she prepares a research article for publication.

“I got to do a lot of presentations, scientific writing and networking in addition to research. There were plenty of challenges. The experience helped me build up the kind of resilience it takes to do research,” Ashley observed.

Integrating outreach into the science major

Ashley’s most significant undergraduate experiences were in the areas of outreach, volunteering and mentorship. She was introduced to several outreach opportunities at OSU, a highly valuable asset for those applying to medical school. As an Advocates for Women in Science, Engineering and Mathematics(AWSEM) mentor, Ashley actively participated in OSU’s Pre-College Program through her science sorority Sigma Delta Omega. She mentored middle and high school girls on campus by exposing them to campus life and engaging the youngsters in hands-on science experiments.

“It was an excellent way of connecting with younger girls and making sure they know there is a place in science for women,” said Ashley, who was a dedicated AWSEM volunteer throughout her undergraduate years and taught her students for seven weeks every winter term.

Ashley is also one of 20 Peer Advisors in the College of Science, a role she enjoys immensely because it gives her an opportunity to talk to prospective students about her favorite topic: The nuts and bolts of being a science major at OSU. “I love sharing lessons that I learned so that new students can figure things out faster.”

“My core physics class was definitely the hardest science class I have taken. But in the end it was the most beneficial and helped me learn the foundational concepts needed for the MCAT.”

As a science Peer Advisor, Ashley’s most remarkable experience was helping organize Discovery Days this year — OSU’s premier outreach event to showcase science and engineering — for nearly 1,500 elementary and middle school students and their teachers.

One doesn’t have to look too far to see where Ashley gets her superlative organizing and leadership skills from, not to mention her impressive ability to be a resourceful and knowledgeable individual who has the answers to important questions. The oldest of four siblings, Ashley is used to being in charge. Ashley, her two sisters and brother were raised by a single father in Junction City, Oregon.

“My father is my biggest supporter. He is over the moon that I got into medical school,” she exclaimed.

The medical school admission process is, of course, highly competitive and Ashley studied 20 hours per week in the months leading up to the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Ashley says that her science classes taken during her first three years at OSU have proven highly useful.

“My core physics class was definitely the hardest science class I have taken. But in the end, it was the most beneficial and helped me learn the foundational concepts needed for the MCAT.”

A straight-A student, Ashley has won several awards and scholarships for academic excellence. These include the OSU Academic Achievement Award and the College of Science’s Merrill Family Foundation Scholarship. She also received the Virginia Welch Scholarship from the Good Samaritan Medical Center, which is awarded to students planning to pursue a career in a medically related field.

“I like to put the most I can into something. One of the worst feelings for me is not trying my best,” Ashley responded. “I always knew that I wanted to just go all out in college and make sure I was really trying my hardest.”

Ashley is highly appreciative of the support she received from her pre-med advisors. “They do a great job of demystifying the bewildering medical school process for students.” She gives a shout-out to biology advisor Cody Duncan who guided her throughout the medical school application process from selecting appropriate classes to preparing for the MCAT.

“I definitely think I would have been less successful had I not received that background help and support from my pre-med advisor,” remarked Ashley, who also had a very meaningful experience studying for a certificate in Medical Humanities at OSU. The latter immersed her in a broad range of medical issues from global public health to the art of healing and biomedical ethics.

Any favorite classes that she would like to recommend to pre-med biology majors? Ashley’s votes go to the biochemistry series taught by legendary and award-winning Professor Kevin Ahern, who retired recently. The class cemented her love for medicine and biology. She was equally awestruck during her lectures in the vertebrate physiology class where the medical school aspirant learned how everything in the body works.

“I think those classes gave me a strong foundation and are definitely going to help me the most going forward,” said Ashley.

Ashley found her home and her campus family in Sigma Delta Omega, a sorority for science majors who share similar interests and goals. Thanks to the sorority, Ashley was able to access outreach and leadership opportunities. She amassed “quality leadership experiences” as co-chair of philanthropy and serving as vice-president of the sorority.

What is the key to her success as a science major? “I like to put the most I can into something. One of the worst feelings for me is not trying my best,” Ashley responded. “I always knew that I wanted to just go all out in college and make sure I was really trying my hardest.” With that attitude and spirit, there is no doubt Ashley will continue on her path of success and achievement beyond OSU.