Rhodes Scholarship finalist Heather Speller '05: "BC turned out to be better than I ever imagined." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Great Expectations, and a Great College Experience
BC a choice pick for top students like Rhodes finalist Heather Speller
By Mark Sullivan
Her grandfather designed the planetarium at Boston's Museum of Science. Her father was the first African-American to graduate from both the medical school and the business school at Harvard. She's an aspiring psychiatrist who has done volunteer work in Appalachia, Haiti and Tanzania and has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.
Heather Speller '05 of Belmont had her pick of top universities. She chose to enter the Presidential Scholars Program at Boston College, and remains glad she did.
"Coming to BC was one of the best decisions I have ever made," said Speller, a pre-med psychology major who was a national finalist this past semester for both the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, and now is vying for admission to the joint MD-MBA program at Harvard.
While Speller and fellow Rhodes finalist Rufus Caine '03 fell short of becoming the third and fourth BC students to win the coveted Oxford scholarship, after 2004 Rhodes Scholars Brett T. Huneycutt '03 and Paul A. Taylor '04, she exemplifies the students Boston College competes for and, increasingly, enrolls: Young men and women whose academic excellence is rivaled by their desire to serve others while engaging the larger world outside the campus.
"In my high school there was a lot of pressure to go to an Ivy League university after graduation," Speller recalled. "Upon visiting Boston College during the Presidential Scholars' Prospective Students Weekend, I was pleasantly surprised at how much BC had to offer. The students I met were incredibly friendly and welcoming. Overall, BC just gave me a really great feeling.
"Throughout my years at BC, I have never once regretted my decision, and in fact, BC turned out to be better than I ever could have imagined. The Presidential Scholars Program has been an enormously positive component of my college career. The program has provided me with amazing opportunities and resources, spanning activities such as full-time service work in Boston, a month-long immersion trip to France with the other Scholars in the class of 2005, and a month-long medical volunteer trip to Tanzania.
"The Honors program has also been fantastic. I have always been a math-science person, and honestly, I was a bit anxious and slightly annoyed about all the humanities requirements in the A&S Honors Program. Much to my surprise, I ended up loving my small Honors seminars - Western Cultural Tradition, and 20th Century and the Tradition - and felt very satisfied to be getting such a rich and diverse liberal arts education."
Presidential Scholars Program director Prof. Dennis Sardella (Chemistry) said he was at first taken by how quiet Heather Speller seemed.
"I quickly discovered that underneath the quiet exterior there was a dynamo," Sardella said. "Heather has an impressive combination of superior intellectual ability, incredible drive, an insatiable appetite for challenge, and a broad range of interests, all of which have led her to extract as much as possible from her college experience."
Speller last year won the inaugural Peter Gray Award for Outstanding Achievement in Psychology, given to a sophomore or junior major outstanding in intellectual independence and creative scholarship. For her Senior Honors Psychology Thesis she is doing a study of attitudes of Asian-American and Caucasian college students toward mental illness. Her advisor on the project is Prof. Ramsay Liem (Psychology), who she says has been a particularly inspiring teacher and mentor.
Her college achievements are too numerous to list, but include internships at a neuroscience laboratory and at Massachusetts General Hospital; volunteer work at a Boston women's shelter and on service trips to Appalachia, Tanzania and Haiti; and performance as a hip-hop and jazz dancer with the Dance Organization of Boston College.
She comes from a family of physicians, scientists and engineers. Her grandfather John and great-uncle Frank Korkosz designed planetaria at the science museums in Springfield and Boston. Her parents, doctors Jeffrey Speller and Tanya Korkosz, are psychiatrists, and founders of a CEO-coaching firm in Cambridge. Her father also was a Rhodes finalist. Brother Justin is a senior at Belmont High and considering Boston College.
"I've always wanted to be a doctor, ever since I was four years old," says Speller, who hopes to become a psychiatrist, and then, reform health care and society.
"I look around and see rampant health-disparities, debilitating stigma associated with mental illness, and millions of people in America and abroad with limited or no access to healthcare," she says. "These social problems, though daunting,can be eradicated."
"As I prepare to depart from Boston College, I will take with me the words of Ignatius Loyola: Ite inflammate omnes - Go light the world on fire."