Hayden McCord Exudes High Caliber Qualities

The valedictorian of his BS in Pharmaceutical Sciences (BSPS) class, Hayden McCord, a recent graduate from Thomson, GA, embodies the inquisitive, passionate, and selfless attitude that has come to characterize University of Georgia students of the highest caliber—and he now has the award to prove it.

This year’s recipient of the University of Georgia’s prestigious Presidential Award of Excellence, given to undergraduate students in their final year of study who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, strong extracurricular involvement, and service to and involvement in their respective school or college, McCord said he feels “humbled” by the honor and that “…it was rewarding to see my hard work pay off!”

“Between being the second person in the history of the BSPS program to graduate with a perfect 4.0 GPA, contributing to research on a R01 NIH grant, serving the community through a student organization dedicated to ending modern-day human trafficking, and working as a nurse aid during the earliest months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hayden’s commitment to not just academic excellence but also service and involvement is abundantly clear,” said Dean Kelly Smith, who recommended to UGA President Jere Morehead that McCord receive the award. McCord has worked with multiple faculty across the state to better understand the genetic basis of keratoconus, a disease of the clear protective layer of the eye, and the disease progression of and possible cures for malaria and a brain-eating amoeba. Most recently, Hayden has worked as an analytical research and development intern for Purisys, a local commercial active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturer, where he optimized various biological extraction methods and developed his knowledge of techniques like mass spectrometry and high-performance liquid chromatography.

We sat down with Hayden to learn more about his plans after graduation, his favorite memories from UGA, and his thoughts on his recent honors awards—check out the interview below!

What do you plan to do after graduation?

I will start medical school in July at the Augusta University and UGA Medical Partnership campus in Athens.

How has the BS in Pharmaceutical Sciences impacted your future career plans?

Initially, I began as a health promotions major, but after meeting with Leslie Standridge, the academic advisor for the BSPS program, I decided to switch my major to pharmaceutical sciences. I was looking for an interdisciplinary major that included multiple fields I enjoy, such as biology and chemistry, and the BSPS program offered exactly that. Since I planned on attending medical school, I wanted a program that would teach me biomedical sciences and other subjects that would be useful to me. My goal is to use the knowledge I gained while studying pharmaceutical sciences to enhance my understanding of the pharmaceutical industry as a doctor and to help me develop further.

What was the best part of being an undergraduate student at the UGA College of Pharmacy? What was the most challenging? What will you miss the most?

The highlight of my experience in the College of Pharmacy was undergraduate research. During my first year, I had the privilege of working with Dr. Christopher Rice on drug discovery in brain-eating amoeba. Later, I worked with other professors at Augusta University and UGA, including Dr. Belen Cassera, who is doing drug research on malaria. One challenge was juggling rigorous coursework and preparation for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT); I was able to overcome this, though, by being disciplined. As I move onto the next phase of my education, I will undoubtedly miss the immense faculty support I received from the College of Pharmacy.

What did it mean to be the valedictorian and graduating student speaker at the BSPS convocation ceremony? What message or theme did you share with your fellow students?

I strive for excellence and want to do the best that I can, and, for me, the honor of being valedictorian and delivering the student address at convocation reflected that I did just that—tried my hardest and did the very best that I could. In my speech, I talked about the importance of the here and now, with a theme of enjoying the small everyday things that bring life value.

Who have been your mentor(s) while you’ve been a UGA student? 

I have had several mentors at UGA, including my first mentor, Dr. Christopher Rice, my current PI Dr. Belen Cassera, and Dr. Wided Najahi Missaoui.

What is the secret to your success? What has helped you stay motivated?

The secret to my success has been consistency and wellness. I take pride in how I take care of myself. I make sure to get eight hours of sleep every night, I enjoy time with friends, and I make sure to set boundaries with my schoolwork. When I was at school, however, I was fully present. I showed up and set consistent times to study and do assignments.

Besides school, what extracurricular activities or hobbies did you engage in while you were a student? What do you do in your spare time?

My Christian faith was a massive part of my college career. I was involved with UGA Wesley since freshman year and in leadership since sophomore year. This was a tremendous anchor for my time in college. Additionally, my role as co-president of Breaking the Shackles, the anti-human trafficking organization, was a big part of my time in college. Outside of these things, I also enjoy the hobbies of cooking (gluten-free), painting, and running.

Some responses have been edited for clarity or conciseness.

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