Allison Cameron is a little nervous about bee stings, and not just the way a casual picnicker might be. The George Washington University alumna, who graduated last month with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, spent years as an undergraduate researcher in the biology department’s honeybee lab. Like many people who habitually interact with bees, she was stung pretty regularly.
“If you get stung too much, you can develop an allergy, that’s what I’m learning—and I’ve been stung 27 times,” she said.
Luckily, Cameron is also a trained EMT who was part of GW EMS during her undergraduate career.
“I’d been having some rough reactions to the stings, so that [medical training] came in handy,” she said, laughing. In fact, she said, she felt like an expert whenever her ambulance was called to a patient with a sting: “I know all about this.”
Cameron now works as a tech in GW Hospital’s emergency department, as well as a CPR instructor for the Medical Faculty Associates, taking a gap year before applying to medical school. “I’m going to miss the research part, but I gotta stay away from the bees a little bit.”
Cameron attended New Jersey’s Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, a small public high school with a focus on ecology and conservation. She chose GW in part because its urban campus and large, diverse student population would offer an exciting new context in which to explore and expand her interests.
“It wasn’t what I was used to, but I was excited to try D.C. and try different things that I haven't done before,” she said.
Cameron knew even as a high school student that she wanted to go to medical school, which would probably entail considerable out-of-pocket expenses. She was also the middle of three children, so she and her family had to be “strategic” about the cost of her undergraduate education, she said. When Cameron received her offer from GW, including a University and Alumni Award that would cover a major percentage of her college fees, her mother was visibly relieved.
“I know my parents were so stressed about it,” Cameron said. “So not having to worry about undergrad was big.”
“We want the most talented and dedicated students to be able to attend GW regardless of their family’s financial resources,” said Jay Goff, vice provost of enrollment and student success. “That aspiration is why GW has made student affordability a top fundraising priority. We know need-based financial aid is especially important to those promising students who previously viewed the cost of attendance as a barrier to enrolling at the university. Open Doors: The Centuries Initiative for Scholarships & Fellowships is helping more students like Allison Cameron receive the scholarship support they need to achieve their dream of a world-class education in our nation’s capital."
Cameron also partially funded her education with Pell Grants, direct funds available to undergraduate students whose family income falls below $60,000. The total number of Pell Grant eligible students at GW grew 16.9 percent in the last decade, from 1,433 students in 2011-12 to 1,675 students in 2020-21.
“Pell Grants have helped students access higher education for 50 years, but the purchasing power of the maximum grant has declined considerably over a half century,” said Renee McPhatter, assistant vice president for government and community relations. “GW has joined the national campaign, #DoublethePell, to encourage Congress to increase grant thresholds to meet modern-day needs.”
The medical field might have been Cameron’s aspiration, but she didn’t let that restrict her—hence the bee lab.
“I was always of the mindset that I want to do that thing I’m passionate about, regardless of whether it would be word for word everything they want on a med school application,” she said. “I would rather do things that I really love while I have the time in college.”
Many of those things were made possible by aid, including staying on campus one summer to research the effect of pesticides on honeybee memory, a paper she’s now working on getting published. Her last project for the bee lab was on the effect of urban environments on food consumption—how what bees eat in cities might affect their ability to survive and function as like a colony.
“They like soda; they love trash cans,” Cameron says. “They’re no better than rats with the trash.” She sounds affectionate, like a pet owner.
“There’s so many things I know I wouldn’t have been able to do if not for financial aid,” Cameron said. “I took the EMT class at GW, and being able to take that as part of my course load was super helpful. That’s given me so many opportunities, and now it’s my job.”
Open Doors: The Centuries Initiative for Scholarships & Fellowships charts a course to increase access to the transformative power of a GW degree. Learn more about how GW is expanding opportunity for the next generation of leaders.