Biology pre-med blazes his trail to a career as a physician
The most successful journeys in life are well charted.
Connor Bluntson, a premedical student and major in the University of Mississippi Department of Biology, found guidance for his passage through academia with the Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students, or MAPS.
Based in the Health Professions Advising Office, MAPS is a nationally recognized organization open to undergraduate minority students who are headed for a career as a health professional.
“Connor is a highly intelligent student,” said Sovent Taylor, who directs the Health Professions Advising Office and is an adviser for MAPS. “He was always attentive and eager to learn, whether in a MAPS meeting or in one of our premed advising sessions. Keep up with him because he will go far.”
With MAPS, Bluntson found an internship the summer of his freshman year at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, doing research on the effects of sleep deprivation on early life development, by shadowing Dr. James Shaffery, director of the Animal Behavior Core Facility in the Medical Center’s Division of Neurobiology and Behavioral Research, a part of the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior.
In the summer of his junior year, MAPS opened the door to a six-week summer health professions preparation program at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the medical school of Columbia University.
Perhaps most important of all, it was through MAPS that Bluntson connected with his mentor, Khalid Manzoul (BS 18), a third-year medical student in the UM School of Medicine. Manzoul is two years ahead of Bluntson; the two first met at Ridgeland High School and were reunited through MAPS.
“It’s a different journey to be a premed as a minority person,” Bluntson said. “MAPS would bring in minority doctors to talk to us so we would have role models. MAPS students take other students of color under their wing and support them.”
Recalling the university’s introductory science courses, he said, “It really helps when you walk into a large lecture hall and see other minority students there. We would study together and support each other.”
Manzoul, was invaluable when Bluntson was studying for the Medical College Admission Test last summer.
“I dedicated a good month-and-a-half to study,” he said. “Khalid passed down his MCAT prep books to me. I knew these books had worked for him, so they should work for me, too, in scoring high on a very difficult test.”
The magic worked. Bluntson is set to enter the School of Medicine in August.
He credits his success to a tightknit clan, based in his hometown, Ridgeland. The Bluntsons are an Ole Miss legacy family.
His father, Craig, earned bachelor’s degrees in managerial finance and accountancy from UM in 1989 and graduated from the School of Law in 1992; his mother, Barbara (JD 94), met her husband during law school; and Connor’s uncle, Eric Bluntson, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1992 and completed an MBA the following year. Eric Bluntson is also a life member of the Ole Miss Alumni Association.
After Craig Bluntson died suddenly from a heart attack at age 33, Barbara picked up the reins of parenting.
“I give my mother all the credit for stepping in and playing the role of two parents,” Bluntson said. “She always pushed me to excel, even when I was a young child. I started reading at an early age, and she bought me a lot of books about science.”
His academic gifts led him to the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science for high school, and he continued his science focus at UM.
Science, and biology in particular, has remained his first love. His favorite class was a research methods course taught by biology professor Clifford Oakes.
“It felt like a discussion-based class, and I was very engaged in learning how to do research, but also how to think critically and logically,” Bluntson said.
Overall, he found his professors accessible and supportive.
“Our bio department, in particular, is very strong because professors have accomplished a lot in their research,” he said. “All the offices in Shoemaker Hall (which houses the Department of Biology) were always open to me.”
By Abigail Meisel/College of Liberal Arts