Nia Mitchell (B.S. ‘19) is a presidential scholar with med school dreams and a compassionate heart
written by Abby Carney (B.A. ’12) | photos courtesy of Nia Mitchell
Nia Mitchell’s voice is polished and sound bite-ready, like a CEO or celebrity fresh from a media training course. No “umming” as she searches for answers — she already has them waiting in their proper mental folders, indexed, highlighted and memorized.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Presidential Scholarship is among the top awards an incoming student can receive. The Honors College biology major has a pre-med concentration, and, since her freshman year, has been working in Dr. Aaron Roseberry’s neurobiology lab studying obesity and how high-fat foods affect dopamine neurons in the brain.
She’s the only undergraduate working there, and she recently completed her first test surgery totally unassisted (on a mouse, “making sure neurons in one part of the brain are in fact projecting to neurons in different parts of the brain,” Mitchell said.) She’s been working towards her dream of becoming a pediatrician specializing in neurodevelopmental disorders since she was in middle school, and that’s required a healthy dose of poise, fortitude and Miss America grace.
She’s had a heart for differently abled children since she was a child — babysitting for a little girl with autism, interacting with her cousin who has Down syndrome and later teaching herself American Sign Language and starting a sign language club.
Mitchell has always been sympathetic toward families dealing with disabilities.
“It’s really easy for people to judge and not be understanding of the difficult circumstances others are going through,” she said. “It’s those experiences that made me interested in working with children with disabilities, so that they know someone is there for them.”
Growing up, Mitchell played basketball and volleyball until she was sidelined with injuries. She may have even gone for an athletic scholarship if her sports career hadn’t been cut short with a torn ligament in her shoulder, and later a torn ACL. Her positive experiences with the lab technicians, nurses and physical therapists she met along the way strengthened Mitchell’s resolve to study medicine. She wanted to shepherd other young people through what can otherwise be a daunting healthcare system.
Mitchell is spending her summer in Chile studying medical and immersive Spanish courses, alongside a regimen of shadowing physicians and volunteering at medical clinics. She picked the program specifically with her future patients in mind.
“Since I’m interested in medicine and the population of the U.S. is changing so much, it’s important to me to become more well-rounded to serve my future patients,” she said.
Though her Trinidad-born mom and St. Croix-born dad work in mental health, and there are several academics in the family, Mitchell, who was born in Trinidad, is the first med-school hopeful.
As she tells it, her family would be just as proud if she changed her mind one day and decided to pursue a different career altogether. Her sights are set on that white coat, but the Mitchell family would cheer her on with equal ardor as a theatre major.