(Editor’s Note: As Commencement nears, WVUToday is featuring some of the University’s most dedicated graduates. Here is the story of one of those students.)
Humble beginnings set Adam Carte apart from a crowd inundated with Yale, Cornell and MIT graduates.
During graduate school interviews at prestigious Ivy League schools, the soon-to-be West Virginia University graduate countered questions about his upbringing on a tiny farm in West Virginia and his pedigree from WVU.
The Hico, W.Va., native will be joining 4,300 other WVU students during Commencement weekend May 9-11 when he receives his bachelor of science in biochemistry from the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design.
“At the interviews, people would say, ‘wow you don’t have an accent,’” Carte said. “I think it made me more interesting to some people, that I have a different background.”
Include Harvard amongst those interested.
Upon graduation, Carte will pursue a Ph.D. in systems biology at Harvard University.
To check out additional stories on soon-to-be WVU graduates, click here.
“I’m training to be a scientist with hopes of going on to do research and teach at the university level; I’d love to become a professor at a big research university,” he said.
Growing up watching “Bill Nye, the Science Guy” and examining pond water underneath a hobby microscope, Carte always had an interest in, and excelled in, math and science.
“And when you do that, people tell you to go to school to be a doctor,” he said.
So he did.
Carte pursued biochemistry with a minor in biology, learning biological functions and cellular interactions. For him, the value in understanding the interactions among cells and inside of cells in small animals – like fruit flies – is that the pathways underlining the behaviors are similar, so the findings can often be translated in to a higher order organism in an animal or human. That discovery intrigued him.
“When you read a biology textbook, it seems as though we have 90 percent cellular and molecular biology figured out,” he said. “But in reality, it’s more like 10 percent. There’s so much more to learn.”
"I'm training to be a scientist with hopes of going on to do research and teach at the university level; I'd love to become a professor at a big research university.
— Adam Carte
He discovered that his passion instead lies in the discovery in science – rather than practicing medicine. That’s when he decided to pursue his Ph.D. rather than a M.D.
“If I went to medical school, I would be practicing medicine – not science,” he said. “Medicine is about applying knowledge that’s been discovered, but when becoming a scientist, you get to generate new knowledge and make new discoveries, and I think that’s really exciting.”
While medicine is out of the picture, there was a time when it wasn’t even certain if Carte would be able to attend college at all.
“I come from what I would say is a fairly poor family,” Carte said. “I knew I wasn’t able to get much financial support from my family, so it was imperative for me to take advantage of the opportunities at WVU.”
Carte received the PROMISE Scholarship, which helped fund his tuition. He also received the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship, a valedictorian scholarship through the Alumni Association as well as other private scholarships, like Pell and Higher Education Grants. He also participated in the McNair Scholars Program, which is given to underrepresented or first-generation students in financial need.
“I come from a background that’s different than the typical student. I definitely learned to work for everything and not expect anything to be given to me,” he said. “Part of that is my personality, but also my upbringing – I think it’s more about individual work ethic and aptitude and potential. If you can deal with hardships and whatnot – it makes for a stronger individual in the future.”
"I've been able to take away so much from my four years here. I've been able to match up well with those who have graduated from Ivy League schools, and I plan to continue to do so."
— Adam Carte
It was the McNair program, which paired him with a professor at the University where he could conduct research, that opened him up to the possibility of research as a career.
Research became a catalyst for Carte’s endeavors throughout his undergraduate career. He campaigned on an undergraduate research platform for the Student Government Association, where during his time as a governor, created the Association of Undergraduate Researchers. The organization aims to teach undergraduate researchers skills and facilitate partnering with faculty for academic research.
“If you want to go to graduate school, it’s essential to have some research experience,” he said. “It’s something we should be promoting more, and it’s challenging to get involved at times because you aren’t sure how or who to go to. I hope this can become a resource for students who are interested. Undergraduate research is rewarding – you can learn a lot and contribute intellectually to finding new knowledge or making discoveries.”
Kenneth Blemings, the chair of the intercollegiate undergraduate program in biochemistry, has served as Carte’s adviser for four years.
“Adam is an extremely gifted individual who had always had an incredible passion for research,” Blemings said. “He has sought out his own opportunities and continuously challenged himself.”
And his next, and arguably biggest, challenge is rapidly approaching: settling into New England for his doctoral program.
“I’ve been able to take away so much from my four years here,” he said. “I’ve been able to match up well with those who have graduated from Ivy League schools, and I plan to continue to do so.”
Story by Candace Nelson
Photos by Scott Lituchy
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