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Two Students Selected for New Vann Ethics Fellowship at Mayo Clinic

Vann Fellows
Vann Fellows (l-r) Spencer Wilson and Ashley Parker

Davidson students Spencer Wilson '13 and Ashley Parker '14 have been selected to conduct biomedical ethics research at the Mayo Clinic this summer as the college's first-ever Vann Fellows. The program was created last summer through a generous gift from Davidson alumnus Jim Vann '50 and Lee Stanton Vann, who also were the main benefactors of the college's Vann Center for Ethics.

The Fellowship award is $5,000 for up to 10 weeks of research under the guidance of mentors in the Mayo Clinic's Program in Professionalism and Ethics.

Because he plans to earn an MD degree, Wilson looks forward as a Vann Fellow to gaining a more thorough understanding of ethical issues in medicine. He noted, "My medical education would not be complete without a strong foundation in medical ethics and an understanding of the moral principles which should inform the conduct of all medical professionals."

He continued, "The ethical landscape of medicine is ever-changing as new technologies and treatments are developed. It is the job of bioethicists to apply moral principles and concepts to these developments so that medical professionals can be better informed about their proper and ethical use."

Wilson, who lives in Wilmington, N.C., has taken several Davidson classes that deal with biomedical ethics. An economics major with a minor in chemistry, he has also conducted biomedical research with Davidson Professors Kristie Foley and Verna Case. He holds the Crenshaw Premedical Scholarship, and has been inducted into the Alpha Epsilon Delta premedical honor society.

Sophomore Ashley Parker of Warwick, R.I., who is studying abroad this semester with a Davidson program in Tours, France, has a particular interest in genetic testing and therapies, stem cell research and in vitro fertilization. She said, "The Vann Fellowship presents an amazing opportunity to learn how ethics research is conducted. There is only so much you can learn in a classroom and books. I don't think anyone can fully understand how to practice medicine in an ethical manner until you're in the field making an ethical decision with a patient."

A French major with an academic concentration in Medical Humanities, Parker also hopes to become a doctor. Her interest in medical ethics was spurred when, as a high school volunteer at a prenatal clinic, she was suddenly charged with comforting a young pregnant woman whose fetal child was diagnosed with multiple defects. "As a future doctor, I want to be educated in the field of bioethics to help my patients make informed decisions on their treatments," she said.

Parker is president of the Davidson equestrian team, and volunteers at Hind's Feet Farm, a facility for persons living with brain injury. She is also active in the French Club, Bioethics Society and Methodist College Fellowship.

In 2007 Jim and Lee Stanton Vann provided the endowment that created Davidson College's Vann Center for Ethics, and they view the Mayo fellowships as another way to promote the study of ethics by Davidson students. Jim Vann said, "Davidson students are committed, capable folks who will make the world a better place. The fellowship program provides for cooperation between Davidson and the Mayo Clinic that will be beneficial for both institutions."

The Vanns have been appreciative patients and ardent supporters of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for nearly a decade. Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit worldwide leader in medical care, research and education. It employs about 56,000 medical personnel and researchers from every specialty who work under a philosophy of "the needs of the patient come first." More than a million people every year go for care to Mayo Clinic facilities in Rochester, Minn., Tampa, Fla., and Scottsdale, Ariz.

Davidson's Vann Center for Ethics at Davidson arranges and conducts Ethics Forums for members of the college family and surrounding community. The center also maintains a blog titled "On Balance" at, and Center director David Perry teaches one ethics-focused course per semester.