Vylonis Overcomes Setbacks to Pave Way to Bright Future

Megan VylonisMegan Vylonis’ activity in the chemistry lab and on the tennis court at Albion College didn’t turn out exactly the way she wanted, but it paved the way for a bright future.

The Buchanan native and 2011 graduate plans to continue on the path toward becoming a pediatrician in summer 2012 when she enters A.T. Still University’s Kirksville (Mo.) College of Osteopathic Medicine; this despite completing a thesis titled, Everything Not to Do: My Experience with Chiral Aryl Iodine, and battling illness and injury to participate on the women’s tennis team her senior year.

A chemistry and political science major, Vylonis joined professor Andrew French’s lab during her sophomore year seeking an environmentally friendly way to generate chemical reactions with iodine by replacing the metals currently in use. Despite countless hours in the lab, the material Vylonis developed to create faster, more efficient reactions didn’t act the way she expected. She hopes her thesis, which led to departmental honors in chemistry, will spur future students to perfect her research, and that her name will always be included in future presentations.

“I was hoping it would work one time,” Vylonis, who graduated cum laude, said. “I would spend a substantial amount of time synthesizing and purifying the product before placing it in a silica gel column. Our column was acidic and caused the product to break down into its starting material. French would call me Houdini because the product would disappear.
“I can say I have a published piece which was the result of a lot of hard work,” she added. “I hope it’s not stuck on the shelf in French’s office or the library getting dusty.”

‘Winning’ the medical school interview
Although Vylonis’ project didn’t lead to a breakthrough, French was quick to point out that the countless hours in his lab didn’t go to waste. Experience on the lab bench is one of the components medical schools evaluate when considering which students to admit, and Vylonis shined during her interviews when she was able to articulate her research ability.

“Medical schools can tell if a student is parroting an answer their boss gave them at the interview stage,” French said. “Lab research can be one of those boxes a student interested in medical school marks off the checklist, but that doesn’t mean that individual is engaged in the process. Medical schools are looking for a sustained, long-term commitment to the profession.

“Megan’s score on the Medical College Admission Test was not the highest, but it was her research and her ability to communicate about that experience that won her interview,” French concluded.

Vylonis also won her medical school interview with an extensive body of experience in the medical field. She has worked as a phlebotomist at Lakeland Community Hospital in Niles for four years and a co-worker occasionally takes her along to view medical procedures. Vylonis also worked for Keith Schauder, ’81, in Texas and has shadowed her own physician, a Kirksville alumnus.

“I like the holistic approach of osteopathic medicine,” Vylonis said of her decision to study to become a D.O. a couple of years ago. “If an individual visits an osteopath for a headache, the D.O. might give them something for the headache, but they may also try a form of osteopathic manipulation before something more drastic.”

‘I don’t have it in me to quit’
An honorable mention all-state performer in tennis at Buchanan High School, the ability to pursue academic and athletic endeavors drew Vylonis to Albion. Her desire to successfully launch her academic career kept her off the court her first two years, but an activity class taught by tennis coach Scott Frew lit her competitive fire.

Vylonis was expected to be the Britons’ No. 5 singles player, but a bout with tonsillitis set her back. Just as she was returning to shape, she stepped in a pothole and sprained an ankle. Albion went on to capture the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship, and the undeterred Vylonis joined Leah Saurman for a victory at No. 3 doubles in the Britons’ first round match of the NCAA Division III Championships.

“I don’t have it in me to quit because you never know if things will come together just as quickly as they fell apart,” Vylonis said.