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GS Blog: Morgan Stephens

"Oh, I’ll Just Worry About That When I’m Old”

I vividly remember the overwhelming excitement and nervousness I felt when awarded the Goodnight Scholarship and NC State admittance nearly three years ago. Times of change bring with them boundless opportunity as well as vast uncertainty, and I felt these two extremes as pure elation paired with utter anxiety while embarking on this new role and transition. Luckily, the feelings of anxiousness gradually faded and were replaced with desire to fully experience the extent of what it meant for me to be a Goodnight Scholar and wolfpack member. I have learned a lot during my time here – Yes, academically speaking, I have gained knowledge through rigorous coursework and training; however, more profoundly, I have gained insight and perspective into a community that genuinely cares. At a university as large as this, there is a unique sense of welcoming and belonging that comes with being a part of this program whether it’s a friendly face in passing on campus or a new study partner in the lounge. Through their invaluable support and guidance, the Goodnight Scholarships staff are instrumental in fostering our community to not only care for one another within but extend reach outwards for broad-scale impact. Perpetually inspired by the endeavors of fellow scholars, I felt empowering motivation to work alongside them as I strived to develop into the best version of myself while making advances in areas that I am most passionate about. Take advantage of this time together, because looking back I deeply appreciate and recognize the preciousness these few years held.

Engineering, at its core, is about helping others – it is about solving problems that will improve the quality of life for a community and society. As a soon-to-be graduate in chemical engineering, my next steps are to pursue my PhD and research career. Science views aging as a disease – meaning something that we can work to treat. While increasing human lifespan is extensively sought after, I am more captivated by the idea of expanding human health span. Lifespan is just the total number of years that someone is alive for, while health span is the amount of those total years that someone is healthy. Modern medicine and technology have drastically increased the expected human lifespan, but in doing so it also has reduced the quality of life for that extended period. I will direct my studies towards profoundly contributing to improving human health span through an approach of preventative research, regenerative medicine, and personalized treatments that target debilitating disorders and diseases, yielding impact that is ubiquitous in scope and possibility. 

If we can increase health span, it decreases the number of years later in life that people degrade and become shells of the lives they once were able to lead. This gives a greater sense of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment to being alive for an entire lifetime. These efforts work towards helping society and humanity live in a proactively health-conscious manner, rather than one of reactionary treatments. This enhances our capability for combating ailments such as diabetes, dementia, and cancer with a goal of decelerating that biological clock to give rise to a lifespan of maximum, optimal health. It’s easy to write off the importance of health span and longevity with phrases like “Oh, I’ll just worry about that when I’m old;” however, the difficulty increases when faced with the reality of a loved one unable to remember who you (or they) are, or a once strong, independent role model who now requires help in fulfilling everyday tasks. That’s why I want to work to help create a world where it is not the norm to watch people suffer and degrade for their last chapters in life, but instead still live with health, meaning, and vitality that they can share in and with others.