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Bryce Wray-Nelson, Biology, Undergraduate

Community service connects undergrad with purpose

Bryce Wray-Nelson | Biology, Undergraduate | Biology Department Bryce Wray-Nelson, a senior biology major, spent much of his time in undergrad giving back to others. Learn more about how his experiences with community service shaped his time in undergrad.

Post grad plans: After I graduate, I hope to attend an osteopathic medical school, hopefully Marian University.

What advice do you have to give to other seniors? Just keep pushing forward. These last few months get pretty intense with all of the work, and the year goes by so fast. I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas, so it’ll be here before we know it. Keep pushing forward and keep smiling because we will get there.

What advice do you have for undergraduate students? Never give up. You’re going to go through times during your undergraduate career where you question if this is the right major for you or you even change your major, and it is going to seem so stressful. It is stressful, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. We aren’t the first ones to get a bachelor’s degree.

Tell me about the SamStrong Dance and what role you play with that? The SamStrong Dance is in memory of Sam Featherstone. He would be graduating this year with me. He was a freshman at IUPUI in the 2012-2013 school year. He was fighting brain cancer for about three years, since he was a sophomore in high school. They thought he went into remission, and when he came to IUPUI he was fine. He starting doing things that a college student would do. He rowed in the Regatta on my team. He was my good friend. We hit it off because we had a lot of the same viewpoints and we clicked. Then, after fall break, he found out his cancer came back and it was super aggressive this time, so he didn’t really focus on getting better after that diagnosis, but he focused on helping people and spreading the word about pediatric brain cancer. What he did was he organized a big fundraiser in Newburgh and Evansville, Indiana. In one night he raised $250,000 for St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

Sarah Fortney was the original designer of the SamStrong Dance. After Sam passed away in January 2013, in less than a month, Sarah fully designed the dance. We had a successful first year for the dance. Fast forward to last year, my junior year, I was the assistant director for the SamStrong Dance. That was definitely an honor because Sam was one of my really good friends, and what better way to honor him than to keep the dance moving forward. Last year was really successful and we expanded our community partner program within the dance where different restaurants would donate gift cards to bring people to the dance. 

This year, being the director is really amazing. If you would have asked me four years ago what I would have been doing my senior year with this, I would have never thought that because we all thought Sam was going to get better. When I think about it, it was really hard when he passed away. He was really a special person because even after his diagnosis, he didn’t really change as a person. He was still himself and he wanted to help others. A lot of people would go into a depressed stage, and he took all the time he had left to help others. 

I talked about him in my Top 100 statement, I said, “When you think of everything he went through, I realize that my problems aren’t really as big as I make them out to be.” I think he really is an inspiration for anyone who hears about him because even when given the worst possible news, he still took the time to think about others before himself. I think that is the whole reason we do the SamStrong dance, not only to honor Sam, but also to continue his legacy, and continue to keep fighting for him. I look at the legacy he has left behind and I think, ‘wow’, it is amazing. He did a lot more in his 19 years than a lot of people do in a lifetime. 

How was your time in IUPUI Undergraduate Student Government? I was in USG my sophomore and junior year. It definitely helped me to have that drive, if you have an idea or a dream to not let it fall by the wayside. If you can think it, you can make it happen, most of the time. One of the big things I was involved with was that I worked on the class ring initiative. I noticed my sophomore year that IUPUI doesn’t have a personalized class ring, like IU Bloomington. I went to the Herff Jones website and clicked on IUPUI for class rings, and they only had the IU class rings. Go IU, but we aren’t IU. We are IUPUI. I came up with the initial idea. I started working with Danielle who was the PBT last year and the year before. We formed legislation for it and it passed through Senate and GPSG, which is our graduate government. We started having talks with Herff Jones, and as far as I know, we are set to order IUPUI class rings in the spring.

What is something unique or remarkable about you? I have played piano since I was 9 and have been singing since I was 2 years old. I come from a musical family. As I got older, I wanted to do something with music. I think that music is a gift and I didn’t want that gift to just sit there and do nothing. 

My freshman year at IUPUI I started to do a Christmas concert at my church, Good Shepard United Methodist. It is a solo Christmas concert, singing and playing piano. Every year we raise money for a different organization. The first year was for the youth group, the second year was for the Eastside Outreach Community Center, and last year was for my church’s centennial fund because we just celebrated 100 years! 

This year we are raising money for the Ronald McDonald House. This is also the first year that I will be having 2 concerts. One at Good Shepard United Methodist, where is it just me, but I am opening up for Indiana University’s all-male acapella group, Another Round as well. I wanted to do something bigger for a Christmas concert so I started pulling up my resources. I wondered if we could do something at Hilbert Circle Theatre in the Symphony, but I thought “probably not this year.” I thought about the Palladium in Carmel, but I thought that was too big. I thought about Warren Central High School in their Performing Arts Center. It seemed like the perfect venue, so I started talking to the director in January. I asked if he would be willing to do a partnership concert with the Ronald McDonald House where I would open up the show, or whatever they would like me to do that evening, and then if they would give a percent back to the Ronald McDonald House. They said they would really love to do that and they’re giving 20% of all ticket proceeds back to the Ronald McDonald House.

What is your favorite type of service? I do a lot of my volunteering on my own, rather than with a group. I really like the medical volunteering focus. I volunteer at Riley Hospital and Ronald McDonald House. What is really interesting is getting to see the two different sides of medicine. Seeing them while they’re in the hospital and seeing the after effects of family at the Ronald McDonald House, and just seeing how they’re doing. It is really nice to be apart of two or three organizations that are determined to not only help the patient but help the family too.