The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

October 3, 2012

Scholar dreams of finding cure for Alzheimer’s disease

MORGANTOWN — As a little girl, Joy Wang couldn’t grasp what was happening with her paternal grandmother.

Joy and her parents would visit Grandma, yet she did not recognize them, didn’t even remember her own son.

The pain from those experiences changed Joy’s career plans from owning a zoo to curing Alzheimer’s, and she picked West Virginia University as the place to get the education to make that a reality.

“WVU has a great biochemistry program and that will help guide me for the rest of my life,” Joy said days before her official start on campus this month. “WVU will be like a second family to me. It’s always stood out from the rest as having a great atmosphere. Not only will I get support from my group of friends, but from faculty and staff. Everyone is so welcoming. I feel so accepted even though I haven’t attended classes yet.”

Leola Humphries, known as “Verna,” suffered from dementia. She passed away when Joy was a teen. When Joy grew older, she began to realize on a deeper level the afflictions of her grandmother’s illness.

“It opened my eyes to how horrible neurological diseases are,” Joy said, “and it gave me the ability to sympathize with others.

“Now I use that pain and those memories as a driving force, a real motivating factor to remind me of what I’m doing.”

What Joy is doing is working toward her dream — to help people like her grandmother by becoming a neurosurgeon. Joy wants to find cures for Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders of the brain.

Quite ambitious for an 18-year-old. Yet the dream seems entirely attainable with a glance at Joy’s resume and work ethic thus far. She was part of the National Honor Society, marching band, student council, quiz bowl team, orchestra and swim team at Capital High School in Charleston. She graduated first in her class.

Joy literally could have gone anywhere to begin her journey.

She applied to a handful of out-of-state universities and visited those campuses. She easily could have left West Virginia. But in the end, she chose WVU, where she has received the university’s most prestigious academic honor — a Foundation Scholarship.

The award, valued at $75,000, provides full tuition and fees, plus room and board and books for four years. The scholarship also includes a $4,500 stipend for academic enhancement, which is commonly used for study abroad, internships and other advanced learning opportunities.

“The day I found out I was offered the scholarship was one of the happiest days of my life,” Joy said.

Joy hopes to use her academic enhancement stipend to study abroad in either South America or Europe.

Joy is already entrenched into the Mountaineer life. Not only is she double-majoring in biochemistry and philosophy, but she’s also a trumpet player for the WVU Marching Band.

Joy said she experienced “melancholy” when she thought about her band years being over after high school. But she found a simple solution to that — try out for the Pride of West Virginia.

“One of the best parts of watching Mountaineer football is seeing the band run out onto the field full of energy,” she said. “It gives me cold chills hearing the band play that first note.”

In her downtime — if she finds any — Joy hopes to engage in community service projects, student government and volunteer work at hospitals. In high school, she volunteered at Thomas Memorial Hospital, where she got her first glimpse into her potential future work environment.

“I believe a cure for Alzheimer’s can be taken through a chemical approach,” she said. “That’s why I’m studying biochemistry at WVU.

“When you’re on your deathbed, all you have are your memories. Not cars. Not property. Not money. Not fame. For some people to not be able to access those memories or recognize their friends and loved ones, that’s so horrible to me. I want to help those people.”

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