Winters Mill graduate dreams of turning long interest in science into career in medical field

When J.R. Mkpasi arrived in the Winters Mill High School media center Thursday morning, a couple of days before graduation, he was a familiar face.

The senior has spent many hours in the media center over his time at the school, studying science texts to connect back to his learning in class, and later recording many renewals of a copy of an SAT preparation guide.


Mkpasi, who was set to graduate Saturday with the Class of 2019, was accepted into UMBC and will begin next semester. In the future he wants to earn an MD and a Ph.D as he goes on to the medical field with a goal to help patients.

J.R. Mkpasi will attend UMBC after graduating from Winters Mill High School on June 8.
J.R. Mkpasi will attend UMBC after graduating from Winters Mill High School on June 8. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

In-school service

Mkpasi is part of the Winters Mill chapter of Sources of Strength, a student group that works to provide peer support and prevention of suicide, violence, bullying and substance abuse.


“Three that we're focused on are positive friends, healthy activities and medical access. So we try to talk to students and show them that those things can be open to them,” Mkpasi said.

As part of the team, when he realized that a lot of students were missing meetings because of other organizations, Mkpasi created a group chat for them to keep in touch and share summary reports of their meetings.

School counselor Jennifer Kempf said that, as a peer facilitator, many describe Mkpasi as “extraordinarily kind, respectful, professional, and takes his role and responsibility as a peer very seriously. He greets everyone with a smile and is always asking what he can do to help.”

Thirst for knowledge

Christine Lesh was Mkpasi’s teacher for honors human anatomy and physiology during his senior year, but she first taught him two years ago in an intro biology class, where he was already eager to learn.


He asked Lesh for journal articles and further reading in medicine and neuroscience.

“He always linked class discussions to something he read on his own. So his love of science was cultivated long before I knew him!” she wrote in an email Thursday. “But beyond classroom accomplishments, JR has been the best ambassador our school could possibly have.”

In the peer facilitator program, “When he wasn’t actively helping new students acclimate to a new school, he was a great spokesperson for our other programs for students. … He has been a wonderful advocate for students and an exemplary role model for parents to see.”

Medical ambitions

Last summer, he interned at Carroll Hospital, where he assisted the orthopedic nursing staff.

One of the most important parts of his job, he said, was to “communicate with the patient and try to reassure them, and show that our staff actually cares about them, so that we can make sure that they get the best medical treatment and hospitality.”

A little more than eight years ago, Brendan Gallagher's career had included researching antidotes to chemical weapons, grad school for molecular biology and running two research labs for a pharmaceutical company.

Before that, he served as a volunteer at Our Daily Bread Employment Center in Baltimore and studied in the biomedical science program at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center.

One of his proudest achievements has been creating a portfolio though the Tech Center program where he documents his lab experience, professional exploration and more.

Advice for a freshman?

He said his advice for new high school students is to test out as many activities as they can in order to find their full potential.

“Once they find something that they're interested in doing, they can find a way to connect that to like a college or career experience,” he said.

Lesh said she is confident that Mkpasi has done this.

“Whatever he chooses, he will give it maximum effort and he will create for himself a career that will have at its focus, the goal of helping others,” she said.

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