Bundled in blankets and warm clothes, seniors at Marvin Ridge High School in Waxhaw, North Carolina, gathered in their school’s parking lot to watch the sunrise. Although the Panera coffee showed up late and only 50 out of 500 kids showed up, Holly Rose felt proud, knowing that she was the reason those few seniors were kicking off their days with smiles and enthusiasm.
As senior class president, Rose wanted to cultivate an inclusive environment for all students. She believed organizing activities beyond the football field or basketball court was key. Senior Sunrise – a popular tradition in which seniors across the country gather before dawn – provided a sense of belonging for students not interested in sports and who felt a bit alienated from the cliques and cool kids.
Even then, Rose had cared deeply about other people, especially the less fortunate.
Now, Rose is a first-year biomedical engineering student at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, hoping to leverage her degree to develop new technologies that would help sick people. More than boasting an impressive resume and GPA (both of which she most definitely had), Rose also brought her deep sense of empathy to USC.
“If you can make one difference, it goes a long way,” said Rose. “I’ve seen people’s lives change for the better from the most simple acts of kindness, and I wanted to be the one to help them, too.”
Rose is a formidable athlete. At Marvin Ridge High School, she participated in her school’s cross country, soccer and swimming teams until the pandemic abruptly ended all athletic activities. When Rose and other young people suddenly lost access to the schools’ gyms and other facilities, she decided to do something about it. To offer children in her community with a health outlet during Covid-19, Rose began giving free swimming lessons to children ranging in ages from 5 to 10.
Rose’s upbringing and work experience in Waxhaw, North Carolina, instilled in her this obligation to serve her community.
“In Waxhaw, there are vastly different socioeconomic groups separated by a 20-minute drive,” Rose said. “I was exposed to so many different people from so many different backgrounds, and I learned a lot about the severe inequality which harms these communities.”
During her high school junior and senior years, Rose worked at the five-star Ballantyne, A Luxury Collection Hotel, and a CVS pharmacy in the middle of downtown. At The Ballantyne, she worked in the dining room and served afternoon tea. At CVS, she served as a pharmacy technician, responsible for filling prescriptions, writing medication instructions for overwhelmed patients and ensuring smooth billing between insurers and patients.
Through working with drastically different clients at her jobs, Rose developed a deep empathy. While she empathized greatly with customers at her pharmacy who couldn’t afford life-saving medication, she was also equally concerned with the well-being of the guests at the opulent Ballantyne Hotel. Her concern for others didn’t exclude anybody.
“Through working at a five star hotel to a pharmacy in the middle of downtown, I learned that these people have a lot in common,” said Rose. “Ultimately, everyone will laugh at your ‘dad’ jokes.”
All the while, Rose was dealing with health challenges of her own. In the middle of her sophomore year, Rose felt a painful, twisting feeling in her stomach while running. After three ultrasounds and rotating through several dismissive doctors, she finally found her diagnosis: severe polycystic ovarian syndrome. Rose subsequently had surgery. She missed over 200 days of school between her sophomore and senior years, partly because she had to attend twice-weekly, post-operation doctor’s appointments.
Rose credits her amazing support system, both at school and home, for keeping her mentally strong despite the many challenges she faced.
“Junior year, the International Baccalaureate program served as a second family. My teachers and classmates actually wanted me to succeed,” Rose said. “Every day I had friends help carry my backpack to class; a simple task that I didn’t even realize I wasn’t going to be able to do post surgery.”
Ultimately, Rose’s involvement in her community as a pharmacy technician and her medical challenges led her to matriculate at USC as a biomedical engineering student. Within her first few weeks here, Rose began mentoring her peers, working for the Trojan Scholars Society mentor/mentee program. To further tap into her extreme empathy, she plans to volunteer at Keck Hospital of USC and wants to tutor students at middle schools and high schools nearby.
“USC offers a family of engineers, resources and a strong support network like the one I had at home. I knew I could succeed here,” said Rose. “The small class sizes at USC are conducive to better learning, and I truly believe the professors actually care. I feel at home at USC.”
Published on November 20th, 2023
Last updated on November 27th, 2023