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Freshman looking to star in health industry


November 21, 2013

Editor's Note: This story is part of an ongoing series about student excellence at the university. To read more about some of ASU's outstanding students, click here.

ASU student Shelby Gum wants to become a leading lady in the health industry. The once aspiring actress dreamed of stage and screen stardom until a featured role in a play sparked her into revamping that dream into helping others.

Gum, an 18-year-old freshman from McKinney, Texas, says the play “The Yellow Boat,” the true story of Benjamin Sarr – who contracted the HIV virus in the mid-1980s through a blood transfusion – literally changed her life. “The Yellow Boat” was written by David Sarr, the longtime director of Tempe-based Childsplay Theatre for Everyone.

“Benjamin was a hemophiliac and continually needed blood transfusions. This was in the early days of AIDS, when they didn’t cleanse the blood for the HIV virus,” Gum said. “This young boy’s courage and struggle in the face of death made me think, ‘Being a doctor, finding cures for blood diseases and helping people in need would be really cool.’”

The McKinney, Texas native says how she ended up at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus studying Medical Laboratory Sciences in the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion, part of the College of Health Solutions, is a continuation of an academic adventure that is still unfolding. She had visited several universities and colleges including Oklahoma State, the University of Arizona, Texas Christian University and Texas State. However, none of them felt right.

“My mom grew up in Mesa and we decided to take a road trip to Las Vegas, and decided to make a swing past ASU to visit with family and to meet David Sarr, thinking we could write the trip off on our taxes,” Gum laughs. “Well, we found out that wasn’t the case. But I did discover ASU had so much more to offer than other universities in terms of resources, research and internships. I could tell they were very innovative in their approach to everything.”

Gum said she’s not unfamiliar with hospitals, and has developed philosophies of her own in regards to quality patient care.

“My mother went through a ton of medical issues and I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals, and I sort of know the ropes,” Gum said. “I know the process, I know good and bad patient care. Health care is not just about patients, but their parents, brothers and sisters, and coping with issues.”

Gum has committed the next decade to becoming a hematologist and is fascinated with the human body and circulatory system.

“I’m a lab rat and I enjoy looking at blood samples through a microscope,” Gum said. “Blood diseases are quite common and complex, and I want to help find a cure for many of these problems.”

With almost a semester under her belt, Gum says she’s pleasantly surprised by her excellent grades, the challenging work and the support she receives from ASU staff.

“It’s amazing to me how everybody wants me to be happy and do well,” Gum said. “President Crow emails the entire university to let us know what’s going on. I get emails from counselors and advisers, instructors and professors. It’s so comforting to know that ASU genuinely cares, especially since I’m so far away from my home.”

David Sarr says it’s comforting to know that his son Benjamin’s legacy lives on through Gum.

“Good theater is intended to change people’s lives, but I’ve never had such a direct connection like this before,” Sarr said. “Shelby’s work will keep Benjamin’s memory alive, and it’s remarkably satisfying for both me and my wife.”