Kaitlyn Wright keeps a “Little Mermaid” keychain attached to her big purple backpack.
She likes the story about a resilient woman who fights for what she wants. But the keychain is a constant reminder of something else: Looks are deceiving.
Wright is a Presidential Scholar, a busy senior and a scientific researcher. She has worked as a residential assistant, helped grow a Christian service organization on campus and played bingo with Reba, an elderly woman in a deep red wheelchair.
But Wright says some people never see her as a scientist. With her curly blonde hair that reaches the middle of her back, some people see the former high school cheerleader with the soft Southern accent as a Cinderella, a Snow White or a Little Mermaid.
That’s not… her.
Wright is HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for the month of January and an example of what HPU has become – a university educating students to be the doctors and scientists of tomorrow.
“People always think I’m going to be a Disney princess,” she says. “Instead, I’m going to be a scientist. I like to keep them on their toes.”
The Importance of Diligence
Wright’s academic awards are many: member of the Alpha Chi honor society; member of the Order of the Lighted Lamp; recipient of three merit-based scholarships in the chemistry department, junior marshal at last year’s graduation and maker of the dean’s list every semester.
She served as a resident assistant in Blessing, a residence hall, and she helped grow a campus chapter of Alpha Delta Theta, a Christian service organization. She was the organization’s president for two years and helped steer such events as playing bingo with residents at Providence Place, a local senior living community.
That’s where she met Reba.
Meanwhile, Wright has flown to Boston and San Diego and given presentations at two conferences for the American College of Sports Medicine. And for the past three years, she has worked with Dr. Kevin Ford as a research assistant.
Dr. Ford, an associate professor of physical therapy, directs the Human Biomechanics and Physiology Laboratory. With Wright’s help and funding from adidas, Ford studied the intrinsic foot strength in football players. Their research may lead to new cleat design.
“You know the old saying integrity is doing the right thing?” Ford asks. “Kaitlyn is diligent when no one is watching. That is what you want.”
What has always impressed Ford is that Wright approached him as a freshman. Wright admits she was intimidated, but she knew she wanted to do research. So, she asked – and got it.
“You learn here you don’t have to be afraid to fail,” she says. “You learn from that. You learn to figure things out.”
The Importance of Family
Wright learned early how to figure things out.
She was what she calls the “tool getter” any time her father and her paternal grandfather worked on cars, tractors or anything else.
She is the youngest of two, one of seven grandchildren, the oldest girl. She also is the first in her family to attend a four-year college.
She grew up on a half-mile road named after her great grandfather, Talmer Wright, surrounded by three generations of her family who all shared dinner together almost every Sunday after church.
Wright was raised a Quaker in Asheboro, North Carolina, a small city 35 minutes south of High Point University, and worked as a counselor and health and safety director at Quaker Lake, a summer camp nearby.
Her dad is Asheboro’s fire chief; her mom, an X-ray technician. Her paternal grandfather, Hubert Wright, a longtime electrician, helped build Bethel Friends Meeting, the family’s longtime Quaker church.
Hubert Wright called his oldest granddaughter, Skater. She called him Paw Paw.
He took her everywhere and taught her to appreciate classic cars.
He had two – a 1953 white Cadillac and a red 1955 Chevrolet. He helped find an engine for her 1999 Pontiac Firebird, candy apple red. She got it at age 15. A friend of hers calls it the “Ketchup Machine.” She still drives it today.
In April, her grandfather died of a brain aneurysm. He was 71. Kaitlyn Wright still aches over his death. But sometimes, she’ll see a cardinal, the state bird of North Carolina, and think of him.
That, she says, is a good thing.
Proving People Wrong
After graduation, Wright will travel to Iceland and Scotland with two of her graduating HPU friends, Ginny Treu of Greenville, South Carolina; and Molly Couick of Monroe, North Carolina.
Then, she’ll start medical school. Wright has yet to know where. But she knows she’ll take with her the perseverance and determination she honed at High Point University.
“When people think of scientists, they often think of white guys,” Wright says. “That’s fine. But I wanted to show people I can do this, that a girl with blonde hair who has a Southern accent can study biochemistry and math. I’m not angry about that. I just want to prove them wrong. Just because someone looks a certain way doesn’t mean she can’t excel in any field she chooses.”