February’s Extraordinary Leader: Lessons Beyond the Lab


Calla Telzrow felt the shudder of nerves when she spotted the collection of machines in Congdon Hall’s third-floor chemistry lab.

One looked like a small refrigerator. Another resembled a big spark plug. She didn’t know anything about what they did. All she knew was she’d be working with Dr. Andrew Wommack, her organic chemistry professor. He’d teach her.

She knew what her mom would say, “There is no reason not to try.”

Telzrow tried; she excelled. The biology senior from Cleveland, whose first name means beautiful in Greek, now trains two new student researchers on what to do.

What a difference a year makes.

Telzrow has been selected as February’s Extraordinary Leader. She is a Presidential Scholar, a member of the Honor Program’s Dean’s List and a talented researcher recognized for her work.

Next fall, she’ll head to a top graduate school. But as she looks back at her last few months as an undergrad, she sees how HPU – and her mom – helped her realize what she can handle and what she can do.

It’s more than mastering machines.


A Shovel Full of Wisdom

Telzrow and Dr. Andrew Wommack

Telzrow and Dr. Andrew Wommack

Last fall in Costa Rica, Telzrow dug a ditch and put in a water line for Strong Missions, a Christian non-profit. She was busy. She mixed concrete and tutored teenagers with learning English.

She went with 20 other members of HPU’s Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, and they stayed for eight days. She played soccer, and she’s not even soccer player. She learned more Spanish, and she didn’t know much Spanish to begin with.

Yet, those weren’t her only surprises.

“It’s funny,” Telzrow says. “You talk about going to other countries to help people, and when you get there, you realize the experience is more impactful on you. I’ll always remember it forever.”

Last year, as Alpha Phi Omega’s fundraising chair, Telzrow helped raise more than $2,500 for various charities. Meanwhile, her Costa Rica work unveiled for her the life of a public servant, the life of her dad, James.

He spent more than three decades as a police officer. Six years ago, he retired at the rank of captain.

“My dad set an example, but my mom had a unique situation,” Telzrow says. “She taught me about grit and motivation and hard work. That is why I care and why I try.”


Mom Knows Best

When she was little, Telzrow thought doctor visits were normal. She always tagged along with her mom, but she never could understand why doctors couldn’t make her mom better.

Telzrow and her mom, Kathy

Telzrow and her mom, Kathy

Kathy Telzrow has Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that attacks the nerves. She has no peripheral vision and has to walk with a cane. Her only child always wanted answers; she received none. So, she lived at the library.

Telzrow discovered in the library’s stacks her love for science. But she didn’t want to go into medicine. She wanted another science-related field that would help her mom – and other people like her mom.

She got serious when she came to HPU. She chose High Point University over seven other schools because of its small class sizes and its growing science department.

Today, she sees Wommack and Dr. Megan Blackledge, another chemistry professor, as mentors and friends. She has participated in three research projects and learned how to work a semi-automated peptide synthesizer.

That’s the contraption that looks like a big spark plug.

Last summer, she participated in Summer Research Program in the Sciences, an eight-week program better known as SuRPS. She researched peptides, or short chains of amino acids.

Next month, at a conference in Asheville, North Carolina, Telzrow will present her research one more time. She no longer feels intimidated. But HPU gave her confidence way beyond the lab.

She has overcome her fear of water. She is now certified to scuba dive. She also has discovered her love for HPU basketball, working out, finding life’s balance and spending time with friends.

She got her go-for-it attitude from her mom.

“That’s the way she lived her life,” Telzrow says. “She showed me that you don’t want to look back and say, ‘Think about what could’ve happened.’”


Meghan Blackledge

Dr. Meghan Blackledge

The Next Step

Next month, Telzrow says she expects to choose which graduate school to study biological or biochemical science. Her choices: Duke, Johns Hopkins University, UNC-Chapel Hill, Emory University and University of Georgia. All five have accepted her.

It’s enough to make her head spin. So, like she’s done for years, she talks to her professors. Like Dr. Blackledge. They caught up last week.

“You can’t make a wrong decision,” Dr. Blackledge told her. “You’re where you want to be.”

That helps. Always has. Always will.

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