Aspiring Physician Monroe McKay ’20 Excels In Science and Football

head and shoulder image of a college student

Recent Rhodes graduate Monroe McKay has excelled as an athlete, an outstanding student, and a caring volunteer in the community. This was amply illustrated this past April when not only was he recognized among the best local football players by the Memphis Chapter of the National Football Foundation, but also he presented his genome research remotely at The Allied Genetics Conference (TAGC) 2020 conference.

McKay’s mantra is “The secret to living is giving,” and he has demonstrated this by serving as a volunteer emergency room attendant at CHI St. Vincent Hospital and Health Care in Little Rock, AR; a food pantry volunteer at Catholic Charities of Tennessee; and a race assistant for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon.

A biology major and an aspiring physician, McKay also has worked as an anesthesiology intern at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and currently is a laboratory assistant at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Transplant Research Institute.

McKay came to Rhodes from Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock, AR, where he was a standout football player. “My original interest in medicine began during high school, when I suffered from a back injury after a game my sophomore year,” says McKay. “The team of physicians, nurses, and technicians who took care of me gave me hope that surpassed the physical pain of my injury. During the recovery process, I began thinking about a career in medicine. I desired to be in a position where I could give the care and attention I once received to others who are suffering physically.”
McKay says he chose Rhodes because he wanted to attend a liberal arts college that would allow him to continue playing football, while also providing him an excellent education and guidance into the world beyond college. He met biology associate professor Dr. Alan Jaslow his first year at Rhodes in Jaslow’s Biology II Laboratory class. “A year later, he was officially my advisor, and I would not be the student I am today without his help. During each meeting in his office, Dr. Jaslow listened intently to what I had to say and gave me essential advice for developing myself as a professional. He has guided my education in the sciences and provided me with necessary tools that have built a strong foundation for my future education and personal life.”

During his last year at Rhodes, McKay enrolled in the Molecular Basis of Cancer senior seminar course taught by biology professor Dr. Mary Miller, and he worked in her lab studying cell cycle regulation in the yeast model system. 

“Monroe has shown incredible dedication and creativity in my research lab. Not only has he established a striking relationship between nutrient sensing and cell division, but also he has taken on a true leadership role moving our work toward publication,” says Miller. “Monroe’s work culminated in his presentation at the Genetics Society of America’s Trans Allied Genetics Conference this April. As the conference shifted from the planned in-person event in Washington, DC, to online, Monroe did not miss a beat. During this worldwide pandemic, Monroe’s training as a Rhodes student scientist and athlete paid off as he tackled technical limitations of the new presentation format, organized his work in a thoughtful and meaningful presentation, and engaged with scientists from across the country through this virtual format. It was a shining moment for Monroe, and for Rhodes.”

McKay was elected captain of the football team in the spring of 2019, and that fall became one of 49 NCAA Division III Semifinalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy presented by Mazda and the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame. The award recognizes academic success, football performance, and exemplary leadership. 

Says Rhodes head football coach Jim Ryan, “Monroe has exemplified leadership to his team through his persistence, work ethic, and positive attitude. He has defined the term student-athlete in every sense of the word.” 

Other academic honors McKay has received include making the Southern Athletic Association’s Academic Honor Roll, making the Dean’s List, and earning CoSIDA Academic All-District honors. He also is a member of Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society and Eta Sigma Phi Latin Honor Society. 

In addition, the multi-faceted McKay plays the piano. “Before I came to Rhodes, I did not have any formal piano lessons or training in music,” says McKay. “After four years of lessons with Dr. Tom Bryant in the music department, I now have a passion for music that I will cherish the rest of my life. He has taught me so many life lessons that are integrated into music and how to share the gift of music with those around you. 

McKay has been accepted to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and says competing as a member of the football team while pursuing academic excellence has given him an edge.

“Working to accomplish a unified goal alongside 80 other athletes on the football field demands collaboration and attention to detail. Each player must know his role and fulfill it to the best of his ability in order for the team to succeed. Teamwork on the athletic field translates directly to contributions as a member of a research team or volunteer organization,” says McKay. “Rhodes has prepared me well.”