Emily Wynja
Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellow, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
Emily Wynja

Medically minded

Both of Emily’s parents are Northwestern alums and played a part in encouraging her to visit NWC during her senior year. But it wasn’t until she spoke to biology professor Dr. Byron Noordewier about the college’s science program and played 18 holes with golf coach Harold Hoftyzer and President Greg Christy, that Emily decided Northwestern was a good fit. A double major in biology and chemistry, she received the prestigious South Dakota State Medical Association Foundation Freshman Scholarship and graduated from the University of South Dakota School of Medicine in 2019.

What sparked your interest in the field of medicine?
Coming into Northwestern I was already considering a career in medicine, but I wasn’t sure where to begin or if it was something I was capable of doing. My professors encouraged me to seek out the answers to these questions by gaining experience working in a health care setting. During my time at Northwestern, I was able to work as an EMT and spend time at a hospital in Ghana, and both experiences played an important role in my decision to go to medical school. Because of my research experience at Northwestern, I obtained a research internship with Sanford Health in their Cancer Research Center before starting medical school. I found the work very interesting and really enjoyed my time there, which has led me to consider pursuing a career in the field of oncology.

What was your favorite memory at NWC?
Honestly some of my favorite times at Northwestern were spent working in (and getting help at) the Peer Learning Center (PLC). Randy Van Peursem [science support services professional] is one of the main reasons I look back on this time spent in the library’s PLC so fondly–he has a real talent for cheering up stressed-out students! During my freshman year, after a chemistry test had not gone as well as I hoped, I can still remember sharing my concerns with Randy that I wasn’t sure if I could do this. I also doubted I would be good enough to get into medical school at that moment! He wouldn’t hear any of it. His confidence in me always convinced me to have more confidence in myself. These trips to the Peer Learning Center were frequent occurrences throughout my four years at NWC.  Whenever I was struggling with something, the support of my classmates and Randy’s persistent encouragement never failed to provide me with the push I needed to not give up on myself.

What did you appreciate most about the science faculty?
What I appreciated most was the high expectations they held for their students without expecting perfection. They desired for their students to learn and to become passionate about learning. They gave me responsibilities and expectations in both the classroom and research lab that allowed me the independence to succeed or fail on my own. I believe having the opportunity to fail taught me just as much as getting things right; the professors never saw failure as a reason to quit or give up as long as you were willing to work hard and learn from your mistakes.

How has studying science strengthened or challenged your faith?
By getting to know my professors and spending time with them, I saw examples of how science and faith can work together. They taught me it is possible to walk in faith while pursuing knowledge and truth both in God’s word and in the disciplines of science and math. They also taught me that the work I do can be an act of worship to God.

How has Northwestern prepared you for your career?
In almost every way possible: I gained the knowledge I needed to be able to be successful in medical school, along with understanding the importance of lifelong learning which will definitely benefit me in my career. I also grew as a person and learned more about my personal values over those four years, enabling me to decide not only what I wanted to do for a career after I graduated, but also what kind of person I want to be and how I want to live my life.