In her years so far at Wheaton, Lucy Browning ’24 has presented at national conferences, conducted research in Kenya, volunteered in local communities, and built lasting friendships with peers and professors alike. And she’s just getting started.
Words: Eliana Chow ’21
Photos: Josh and Alexa Adams
“Coming to Wheaton College was like a breath of fresh air,” said Lucy Browning ’24. “When you’re touring upwards of a dozen schools, they start to blend together. There was just something different here.”
Browning isn’t shy to share that her dream school had been Emory University in Atlanta. With its massive research center, the university seemed, at least on the surface, like the perfect fit for this aspiring health sciences professional. But even after a handful of scholarships and financial aid, the school proved too far out of her budget. With a sheepish grin, she admits that Wheaton was a place she turned to in a moment of panic when the Emory dream appeared to crumble. Yet Browning’s decision to pivot in Wheaton’s direction was largely informed by the admissions counselor and team that walked her through the process, from campus visit to decision day.
“I felt cared for and valued holistically—much more than a number like a test store, a GPA, or a check they’d receive in the mail when I enrolled,” she said. “I was also really intrigued by the fact that I could learn about my faith in an academic context, which I thought would be greatly helpful in equipping me to enter into many broken and hurting spaces in our world. All of that without having to sacrifice a rigorous, respected science education.”
Although she may have arrived on campus with some hesitation, Browning now believes this is exactly where she was meant to be for her four years of college. She cites several opportunities she would not have been able to take advantage of at a larger school, including conducting hands-on research in Naivasha, Kenya with Associate Professor of Applied Health Science Dr. Scott Ickes. “All those research assistant positions would go to upperclassmen or graduate students,” observed Browning, who joined Dr. Ickes’ team at the beginning of her sophomore year.
For several years, Dr. Ickes’ research has backed policies designed to empower, equip, and support women who are employed within the flower farm and tourist industries in Kenya. He and his team are primarily focused on increasing breastfeeding rates among employed women, emphasizing the sociological and biological benefits of maternal care and breastfeeding. Implementation research, or understanding how to take a good policy and effectively integrate that policy into communities, is a key driver for Dr. Ickes’ work at the intersection of health sciences and government. Starting in 2020, the team has also examined the impact of COVID-19 and their study participants’ beliefs or access to the vaccine.
Browning got her start “scrubbing” spreadsheets upon spreadsheets of data for the team. She combed collections of both quantitative and qualitative findings from the study, organizing them for future use and familiarizing herself with the research conducted so far. Then, during the summer of 2022, after securing a Wheaton College Summer Research Grant, Browning traveled with Dr. Ickes and one other undergraduate research intern from Wheaton to Kenya. Half her time was spent behind a computer screen—transcribing interviews and coding data—while the other half was spent interviewing managers, mothers, and healthcare workers for the study. That fall, Browning single-handedly presented their work at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in Boston. She participated in roundtable discussions, answered questions from esteemed researchers across the country, and networked her way through the conference in the chance of a lifetime for an undergraduate. “I felt very out of my league,” she said with a laugh.
Existing alongside such exhilarating experiences, Browning emphasizes that there has been no lack of what she calls “moments of pressing” throughout her college years. These are life events that weigh a little more heavily on the body and soul. Over the course of a year, several batons of brokenness seemed to pass to her all at once. As a volunteer at Bolingbrook Christian Health Center and a frequent visitor to the Warrenville Juvenile Detention Center with Wheaton’s chapter of Juvenile Justice Ministry, she was (and continues to be) confronted with the lack of available support for families and individuals going through crises. As a member of a close-knit Minnesota family, she carried the dual aches of grief and loss while far from home. And while serving as a tour guide and host for prospective students, and student leader for a group of wide-eyed freshmen in Passage Orientation through the South Side of Chicago, she helped her peers carry heavy emotional and spiritual burdens.
“I just remember coming home to my apartment one night, sitting on the kitchen floor, and sobbing with my friends,” she said. “I felt more empty than I’d ever felt, even occasionally crying during office hours with my professors. But I think that’s one of the special things about Wheaton: the types of students, staff, and faculty it attracts. My professors wanted to listen, and as cheesy as it sounds, they understood that life happens outside of the classes they teach each morning. And to sit with friends and roommates and just cry together? There’s love and care in that. The verse ‘in my weakness I am strong’ had new meaning when I had to live and walk through difficult seasons.”
For Browning, these relationships quickly became one of the most meaningful facets of her Wheaton experience. Despite her advanced academic accomplishments and pertinent passion for eventually entering the public healthcare sphere, she remains grounded in people and communities that mutually mold and edify her as a whole person.
“A lot of my growth has come from getting to walk alongside adults on campus that I really respect and admire who are following the Lord faithfully,” Browning said. “I get to see glimpses of what it looks like to follow Jesus from mentors who are married or single, and science professors or student development staff, and that’s expanding my view of what it means to be a faithful Christian no matter what your life looks like.”
To learn more about health science at Wheaton, visit wheaton.edu/healthscience.