Auburn Spotlight, Emily Junkins

"We would teach seminars for individuals so they could then go and make a difference in their own communities."
Emily Junkins
Auburn Alumna

Spotlight Interview

Emily Junkins ’12 has combined her love for science with her love for serving others to help communities solve problems in a practical way.

Though her heart lies at Auburn University, her alma mater, Junkins is currently a microbiologist working toward her doctorate at the University of Oklahoma.

It was recognition for her work in Oklahoma that earned her the Pat Tillman Scholarship for Military and Military Spouses.

The scholars chosen show extraordinary academic and leadership potential, a true sense of vocation, and a deep commitment to create positive change through their work in the fields of medicine, law, business, policy, technology, education and the arts.

Junkins says she was shocked to receive the scholarship.

“It’s extremely affirming in what I want to do. To have a group like the Pat Tillman Scholarship back you in that way and support you means a lot.”

Junkins was chosen to receive the scholarship because of her plans to make a difference in target-specific solutions and the mentorship of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, students.

Junkins met with other scholars at an annual leadership summit in Chicago.  At the summit, the scholars discussed service projects and also participated in one.  The summit gives the scholars the opportunity to meet and share their stories.

After graduating from Auburn, Junkins got her master’s degree in forensic science at Chaminade University in Honolulu, where she studied microbiology in terms of human decomposition and how microbes can be used to aid in some forensic death investigations.

“Once I get my Ph.D., I hope to stay in academia, have my own lab at the university and essentially just be a principal investigator.”

Junkins is very involved at Oklahoma, working as a graduate teaching assistant and mentoring STEM students.

“At our lab here, Bradley Stevenson Laboratory, we invest a lot in students,” she said. “The students work on projects with us.  Every single student has a hypothesis that they’re going to test, and they are going to walk away with some kind of tangible project.  We want STEM to be important for the students in order to groom them as future scientists.”

Junkins has experience in educational service in Zambia, where she volunteered with Servants in Faith and Technology, or SIFAT.  With SIFAT, she helped design a technology center for community leaders to come and use as a teaching center.

“In Zambia, we were essentially teaching various communities all over the world how to solve problems practically with things that they can find in their community,” she said. “We would teach seminars for individuals so they could then go and make a difference in their own communities, and we were trying to empower the communities rather than us creating a vacuum when we leave.”

Her many collaborations include searching for antibiotics by using roadkill, looking for natural compounds in the environment to use as drug targets and investigating corrosion that occurs in the fuel systems of U.S. Air Force planes.

“When you’re faced with a problem, whether that be trying to solve a social issue in a community or a practical issue in science, if you can approach something methodically but also have understanding and compassion for those involved, you’re probably going to make a difference.  The project will mean more to you if you’re more invested in it, whether that being in Zambia or in the United States military or anywhere.”

“I love the community that Auburn has,” said Junkins. “The way the campus is designed really fosters the community feeling for such a large student body.  I love Auburn football, so it was very hard for me to transfer to Oklahoma and wear crimson and white.”