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COSAM Senior Uses Head Injury to Inspire Career Goals

Published: 09/10/2019

By: Carla Nelson

The unfortunate incidents of suffering two severe concussions in high school happened to lead Auburn University student Kaitlyn Conner towards her chosen career path.

Kaitlyn was a competitive equestrian athlete in high school, competing since the age of 11. After a fall, she developed post-concussion syndrome, which is a mild form of traumatic brain injury.

“I was already interested in medicine at that point, but the injury opened up this whole world of neuroscience and neurology and learning about it as I went through recovery,” Kaitlyn shared.

A senior studying in the Auburn University College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM), Kaitlyn is currently pursuing concurrent degrees in biomedical sciences and neuroscience with a minor in psychology. She plans to pursue a career in pediatric neurology.

Enrollment in a Behavioral Neuroscience class at Auburn her freshman year solidified her decision.

“My very first semester at Auburn I took the intro to psychology course,” Kaitlyn said. “I loved the professor, Dr. Barker. I wanted to take another class with him and I didn’t care what it was. He put me in this senior-level psychology class, which was Behavioral Neuroscience, and I loved it. It’s still my favorite class I’ve taken at Auburn.”

Kaitlyn, an Austin, Texas native, was originally studying chemical engineering as a pre-med student, but soon after switching to study in COSAM she found the degree she knew was right for her. Almost two years ago Auburn began offering a degree in neuroscience. Kaitlyn was one of the first two students to declare the major.

“It fit hand-in-hand really well with the biomedical sciences curriculum,” she said. “I got to do the things I was interested in and also prep myself for what I wanted to do. I couldn’t have asked for it to work out better.”

Although Kaitlyn hasn’t competed in equestrian since arriving at Auburn, she has found a way to combine her passion for horses and helping kids as a volunteer with Storybook Farm, a therapeutic horse program.

“I’ve been involved with therapeutic riding programs before, but there’s not any that are quite like Storybook,” she said. “It’s really unique the way it’s so closely interconnected with the community, the staff is amazing and the volunteers it attracts are so special. I really love it. It has been one of my favorite parts of my Auburn experience.”

Kaitlyn added that the relationships she has built with the volunteers and the families at Storybook Farm has made her time at Auburn more special.

“It’s a sort of community that comes back year after year,” she explained. “We see the kids grow up, we get to see them progress, which is amazing. You could have the worst day of classes and go out there and see a kid who is in a wheelchair and is so excited to walk around on a horse for 30 minutes and nothing else matters.” 

After graduation in May, Kaitlyn plans to return to her love of equestrian for a year before beginning medical school to intern with an Olympic-level equestrian rider in Tennessee. She said she knows this may be her last opportunity because she hopes to pursue a Doctorate of Medicine and Philosophy, which could possibly take eight years.

During her time in COSAM, Kaitlyn has studied abroad in Spain, has been part of the Honors College, was awarded the Presidential Scholarship and the Susan Stacy Entrenkin Yates Award, has worked as a residential advisor, is on the Auburn Dance Marathon staff, and is currently an undergraduate research fellow in the Auburn University Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab.

Kaitlyn said she is proud to be a COSAM student, adding that the COSAM Student Services office has been a major support system throughout her college career.

“From day one, it has been amazing,” she shared. “I know a lot of people feel like COSAM is such a big college that you can get lost in, but I have found again and again that just making the effort to have those more personal conversations and connections helps so much. I’ve gotten so much out of it.”

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