Merci Best ’17 first discovered her love of science as a middle school student in Richmond, Virginia. Now, she’s passionate about helping future generations of students — especially women and people of color — develop a love of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math).
Starting the summer after eighth grade, she worked in John Warrick's research lab at the University of Richmond, where she used fruit flies to study the human brain. She is now a doctoral student at the University of Virginia studying Alzheimer's disease.
A neuroscience major and community studies minor at William & Mary, she started her own business, STEAMTRIX, to introduce students to STEAM careers. She also volunteered in local schools as a Sharpe Community Scholar — a program that advances community-based research and teaching — and conducted research through the W&M Scholars Undergraduate Research Experience program into the reasons women are underrepresented in STEAM fields.
“I felt like I was a better scientist because I took the time to take upper-level education courses on how to do research while engaging the community and how to teach students from different backgrounds,” she says. “People who look like me are underrepresented in science. So how do I pursue my dreams and aspirations, but still provide a pathway for other students who may not know this is available to them?”
She chose to attend William & Mary not only because of its strong academics, but also because of the scholarships she received, including the Spirit Scholarship. Established by Nancy Burgess Gofus ’75 and Joe Gofus HON ’18, it provides need-based scholarship assistance to a student who exemplifies the William & Mary spirit: leadership, community and international service.
A highlight of her W&M experience was studying abroad in South Africa through the Reves Summer Scholarship, something she didn’t think she’d be able to do as a science major always in the lab.
“It is vital to know what scholarships exist, and the Center for Student Diversity showed me what was available and how to apply,” she says. “That’s why, even though I’m still getting into my career, I give back to the Center for Student Diversity.”