SMC student, singer and scientist looks to a future in medicine

SMC student, singer and scientist looks to a future in medicine

by Baker Maultsby

Bret McAbee likes to be where the action is. And he’s found plenty to be part of as a student at Spartanburg Methodist College. He works as a tutor for other students, serves as an orientation counselor and sings tenor as part of the Troubadours choral group – all while earning a GPA that’s a whisker away from 4.0.

McAbee’s career plans, too, reflect his taste for the fast pace. He wants to work as a doctor in an emergency room, where caregivers are constantly on the move and the pressure is intense. “The idea that someone’s life can be in your hands, and it’s up to you to do what needs to be done – that’s essential,” he says.

A chemistry major from Campobello, in northern Spartanburg County, McAbee appears to be well on the way to reaching his goal of a career in medicine. Chosen by his classmates to be the graduation speaker at this Saturday’s commencement ceremony, he will head to Presbyterian College next fall with nearly a full scholarship.

But first, he and fellow student Austin Miller will join chemistry professor Adam Siegfried in a prestigious summer research program at Furman University. Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) is funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation and engages students and professors in state-of-the-art chemistry research.

McAbee’s team will study halogen-bonded crystals during the ten-week program.

With long-term goals in mind, McAbee says he’s excited about the REU opportunity because it could strengthen his resume for medical or graduate school. In the short-term, he’s glad to have the chance to continue working with Siegfried, whom he describes as a terrific teacher. “He explains things really well – gives a lot of examples of the concept we’re studying.”

McAbee says Siegfried is like the majority of faculty members at SMC – engaging, friendly and always willing to offer extra support. “I doubt there are a lot of places like this, where the professors keep their door open anytime they’re in their office,” he said. “They give you the tools to succeed.”

In addition to studying chemistry, McAbee has particularly enjoyed singing with the Troubadours. The group sings religious songs, patriotic music and the occasional pop or folk song from the 1960s.

“I just love hearing all the harmonies come together,” said McAbee, adding that director Lanny Lanford is an inspiring leader and the kind of educator whose impact goes beyond the classroom (or stage). “He’s one of the smartest men I’ve ever met,” he says. “It’s great to work with someone who you respect everything they say. He not only knows about what’s in the book, he just knows a great deal about life.”

McAbee plans to continue singing at Presbyterian. The choral group there is slated to take a trip to perform in Europe next spring. It will be McAbee’s first trip abroad.

McAbee is a first-generation college student. He was a strong student at the small Christian school he attended and always expected he would attend college. “I don’t see it as that big a deal,” he said. Still, he acknowledges, “My parents are pretty proud of me.”

Vice President for Academic Affairs Ann Bowles says McAbee is a great representative of the college and its mission. “Bret is one more example of a student who has come here and taken advantage of and immersed himself in opportunities to learn and grow,” she said. “He’s well-
rounded and clear about what he wants to do, and there’s no doubt he will be a success.”

McAbee is excited about moving on to Presbyterian and eventually pursuing post-graduate studies. But he’s developed a deep loyalty to SMC. He says he will always feel connected to the college.

“It’s one of the things I plan to say in my graduation speech: Once a Pioneer, always a Pioneer.”