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Microbiology student discovers power of mind and meditation during academic journey

Isaiah Sampson

Isaiah Sampson will graduate with his bachelor's degree in microbiology and a minor in music this May.

April 26, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Isaiah Sampson has had his sights set on a career in dentistry since he was a teenager. And while many students change their direction over the years, Sampson has held his focus and made calculated decisions to achieve his goals.

The graduating senior, who will receive his bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the School of Life Sciences along with a minor in music this May, credits meditation for allowing him to stay on track.

“I’ve generally been focused but it hasn’t been as laser-like until I started meditating and that really gave a true grasp of the power your mind actually has,” he said. “Freshman year I wasn’t able to go to the Ignite Camp so I went to Spark and Scot Schoenborn held a breakout session about meditation. That was my first semester, freshman year and I’ve loved it ever since.” 

Meditation, combined with an “almost militaristic schedule” of alarms, has allowed Sampson to stay on top of the many university initiatives he’s involved in, including assisting with orientation, mentoring students and fellow mentors, working as a TA, conducting research in the social insect research group and volunteering at Ryan House through Hospice of the Valley, just to name a few.

“Your energy, how you set your mind and how you think is really important in what you’ll be able to achieve,” Sampson said. “If you set your mind and your preparations, your results are going to be a lot different than if you coast through things.”

Outside of the opportunities and resources found within Arizona State University and The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Sampson said he found an environment that welcomed and supported diversity.

“If you feel as if empathy is something missing from the world, you should go to ASU because not only is the mission to include, the diversity is something that runs through this place seamlessly,” he said. “You encounter people from all types of backgrounds, you grow in the empathy you have and the understanding of other people's cultures. It is really a place where you grow a love for people because there are so many different relationships you create, and with these, you are able to understand the struggles of many different demographics. This is crucial in trying to create a world of cohesion.”

Sampson answered some questions about his time at ASU and shared what he has planned next.

Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

A: I first got interested in the dental field when I was about 14 and then seriously put together the steps to accomplish that at 16. It was based on experiences my mom had with her dental health, and when I was younger, my sister got her tooth knocked out. Seeing how dental health affects people, that created a clear image that that was what I wanted to do. Since I knew there was a lot of science behind it, I figured I should study something that is interesting and applies to the field I’m going in.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: Since ASU is so diverse you encounter a bunch of people from different backgrounds. … Seeing how we can connect with people and how that grows empathy and grows how we see the world was a thing I hadn’t really encountered. ASU is as diverse as it gets.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I came to ASU as an out-of-state student. What drew me to this school was that there were so many majors and it seemed as if the resources were endless. After I came to this institution, this idea was confirmed as I was able to see the many places to get involved and resources available. I was able to be an orientation leader, a TA for general biology, have a position in a research lab, be a facilitator — among other mentoring positions.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Christian Wright, he was my professor for BIO 281. He really solidified the idea of being cognizant of what you’re doing, being metacognitive in what you’re learning and — from a teaching aspect since I was interested in that — he taught me about self-evaluation and using the data you get from the results of students to better yourself as an educator. That made me grow great respect for him since he was always self-reflective with every exam, getting the results back, seeing what he could have done better, seeing what he could have communicated better and seeing how to test students better. It was really inspiring especially considering that in the future, I do want to go into academia. It was really cool to see a professor that cares so much about the students to such a high degree.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: It’s dependent on what you want to go into, but as a broad statement, take what you’re getting involved in seriously and strategically. So if you’re set on one thing, make sure you are doing things that are contributing to a narrative that will be applicable to the field you’re going into.

Q: Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?

A: The achievement I am most proud of is being able to serve as the undergraduate representative on the School of Life Sciences Advisory Committee. This was something I was very happy about, not only because I was selected by faculty, but because it gave me a chance to actually give input into what this school should do based on student experiences. Being able to be in those meetings, and being unafraid to voice my opinions and share ideas among faculty, the dean of natural sciences (Nancy Gonzales) and other leadership within The College was a great opportunity. It felt incredible to actually see them take my input into consideration and to see the final product of what we came up with. Being able to identify what I contributed in the final write up of the process felt insane as these are things that will actually come to fruition. I am glad that the students are able to get a voice that is listened to rather than just heard.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: The biology learning resource center. There was always a seat available and the people that worked there were always so nice, and we’d have great discussions about many things. It became a hub for students to connect. Now that I work there as a tutor, it’s cool to see how that translates on both sides.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m enrolled in UCLA School of Dentistry so that’s where I’ll be going starting in September.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Inner city and urban education systems, specifically in underprivileged communities. Being able to increase the education and the engagement of underrepresented groups within STEM and being able to increase resources with those groups to try and help out the transition and increase the underrepresented groups in STEM specifically. I’m a black male in STEM and I’m usually the only one in the class that looks like me and I think that’s definitely something that should be helped out.

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