‘What’s Next’ for Winnsboro’s Vernon Kennedy, Jr.?

CHARLESTON – Publisher’s Note: Senior honors student  Vernon Kennedy Jr. will be graduating from the College of Charleston Honors College this spring. On the way out the door, he was featured in the college’s series, ‘What’s Next?’ Here is an excerpt from that critique of this top student’s stellar college career and a peek at where he’s headed.

Much to his surprise, molecular biology major Vernon Kennedy Jr. unexpectedly fell in love with research soon after he arrived at the College of Charleston. And his research, in turn, has propelled him to new heights.

His affinity for research was first incubated in 2019 when he started working with psychology professor Jennifer Wilhelm in her lab, conducting clinical neuroscience research on the effects that estrogen signaling and exercise have on spinal cord changes following a nerve injury.

“I came into college strictly pre-med,” Kennedy said. “At that time, I knew that research was something I had to do in order to be competitive for medical school, so I sort of viewed it as just another prerequisite. It wasn’t until I got deeply involved with the scientific process that I saw how much I needed science (not just medicine) to be a continuing part of my career.”

Last year, his research skills were recognized nationally when he was named a Goldwater Scholar. More recently, he was one of just 60 students from across the country selected to participate in the Council on Undergraduate Research’s 2021 Posters on the Hill event.

So what’s next for Kennedy after he graduates in May?

He’s taking his research talents to the National Institutes of Health. Kennedy is headed to Baltimore, MD to work at the NIH as a Post-baccalaureate Fellow in the Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) program. He’ll be working on a project within the Institute on Aging, studying the secretory function of the choroid plexus.

“The NIH is literally the hub of biomedical research in this country.” Kennedy said. “As an aspiring physician-scientist, nothing excited me more than having the opportunity to study and collaborate with some of the brightest minds in science.”

Looing back over his college career, Kennedy said, “As a black male at the College, there were so many times (particularly towards the beginning) where I constantly questioned my adequacy as a student and member of this community. Being the only black person and/or male in so many classes and professional spaces certainly had its impact. But the latter portion of my time here has definitely shown me that since the beginning I’ve always had what it takes, and that I 100% deserve to be in the position that I’m in.

“I know now that I am enough,” Kennedy said, “and I belong.”

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