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Exceptional work ethic drives Blugold Fellow to medical school.

Damon Campbell
Blugold Fellow Damon Campbell graduated in May of 2006,
completing his undergraduate degree in just three years.
(UW-Eau Claire photo by Rick Mickelson)

EAU CLAIRE — When Damon Campbell was 10 years old, surgeons at the Mayo Clinic successfully performed heart surgery on his grandmother. From that moment on, Campbell knew that he wanted to be a doctor so he could help people as the doctors had helped his grandmother.

"As a 10-year-old, it was absurd to me that my grandmother seemed fine but had to have this surgery," said Campbell, now a 21-year-old University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire senior. "But the doctors were amazing and my grandmother is still with us today. I thought what the doctors did was awesome. I knew then that I wanted to do that for other people someday.

"But I also want to see the world. So after medical school, I want to be a surgeon, pay off my debts and then join an organization like Doctors without Borders. That way I can combine being a doctor with seeing new places."

The chemistry major from Elroy is wasting no time pursuing his goals.

Campbell will graduate from UW-Eau Claire in May, completing his undergraduate degree in just three years. He plans to spend the summer working in Britain. And he will begin medical school in the fall at the University of Wisconsin.

"When I was registering for classes my first semester here, I asked my adviser how many credits the average student takes," said Campbell, who enrolled in additional classes in high school instead of taking study halls. "She said the average student takes 15 credits a semester so I signed up for 20, with many of them in chemistry and biology. My goal was to get to medical school and I wanted to do what I had to do here to get there as quickly as possible."

Earning a chemistry degree in just three years is an incredible accomplishment, said Dr. Scott Hartsel, chair of the chemistry department.

"Most people say it's hard to get through the chemistry program in four years," Hartsel said. "Damon was taking 20 credits a semester and these were not easy classes. These classes were grueling because of the homework and study time required outside of class. I can't remember anyone getting through in three years. If it happened before, I don't know about it."

Despite the heavy credit load, working multiple jobs on campus and excelling as a student researcher, Campbell will graduate with a 3.98 GPA. (He received an A- in a fall semester physical chemistry class.)

"In my years at UW-Eau Claire, I've never seen such a good balance of dedication toward good grades and dedication to understanding the material that's presented," said Dr. Matt Evans, associate professor of physics and astronomy. "Damon understands that knowledge is a valuable commodity that he can gain. You don't get the feeling that he's 'harvesting' grades."

A combination of natural intellect and determination has helped Campbell excel, Hartsel said, adding that he's also impressed with Campbell's "good heart."

"You could put Damon in any situation and he would quickly master it," Hartsel said. "With the exception of maybe art and music, you could put him in any environment and he would become an expert. He focuses like a laser on whatever he does. I've never had a student who has worked so hard."

In addition to being an exceptional student in the classroom, Campbell also is an accomplished student researcher, said Evans, director of UW-Eau Claire's Blugold Fellowship program, which awards scholarships to outstanding freshmen who are interested in collaborative research with faculty.

"I've seen him excel as few other Blugold Fellows have," Evans said. "He has used his opportunity to not only learn independent research techniques, but he also has presented three posters at national conferences and published two papers. Few students starting their third year of college can match his amount of dissemination and success."

Campbell has taken the lead on several complex research projects, moving the research forward in ways he never thought would be possible, Hartsel said.

"My biggest challenge is keeping up with him because he always wants to do more," Hartsel said, adding that Campbell has co-authored research papers that have been published in two prestigious science journals. "Every second he has, he's focusing on a task."

The research opportunities have added great value to his undergraduate experience, Campbell said, noting that the first time he was ever on an airplane was when he and Hartsel flew to Boston to present their research at a national conference.

"It's really neat to be published as an undergraduate student," Campbell said. "And it was amazing to go to the national conferences. It was exciting because I was presenting my work in front of real scientists, who were asking me questions and making comments about the research."

When considering colleges, Campbell said he chose UW-Eau Claire over UW-Madison because it was less expensive.

"But I quickly figured out it was the right choice for a lot of reasons," said Campbell, who has received multiple scholarships from the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. "I got to work directly with professors and do research that wouldn't have been possible elsewhere.

"In a classroom, you learn things but don't really know if they're applicable. And in a lab for class, the professor knows in advance what the outcome will be. But research brings the lab and classroom work together and you work to answer a real question. That's an incredible thing."

With the help of an adviser, Campbell connected with Hartsel during his first semester on campus and began doing research with Hartsel between his first and second semesters his freshman year.

"Dr. Hartsel and the other chemistry and physics faculty have been awesome," Campbell said. "I can talk to them any time and they're always there to listen and help. I'm amazed at the amount of time they put into their students."

Faculty are equally amazed by Campbell's contributions to the chemistry department. In addition to his academic achievements and research success, Campbell has been a leader in the American Chemical Society-Student Affiliate, tutored other students and spent hours transforming an old, neglected chemistry department display case into a beautiful cabinet that showcases past and present chemistry student accomplishments.

"He spent hours refinishing the wood on the cabinet and turning it into something beautiful," Hartsel said. "He did it because he wanted to leave something permanent in the department for us. He's just that kind of a person."

Evans said he has no doubt that Campbell will succeed in medical school and beyond.

"From his interaction with fellow students and teachers, you see a young man who is at ease with his talents," Evans said. "Damon's parents have passed on the traits of humility, thankfulness and pride. His interest is in helping humanity. Instead of thinking of himself, he thinks of others and feels that medicine is his way of giving back to society."



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