New alumnus takes Marshall experience to med school
HUNTINGTON — On paper, you might assume outgoing Marshall University student body President Hunter Barclay has political dreams.
A world champion persuasive speaker with an international affairs degree and a successful year as president, on top of being a Yeager Scholar, Barclay’s skills and experience make him well fitted.
But also armed with a pre-med degree, Barclay is taking his skills to an area where he can make an immediate impact on people — the medical field. Graduating Saturday from Marshall, Barclay, of Frostburg, Maryland, will now head to Morgantown to attend West Virginia University’s School of Medicine to study oncology, possibly pediatric oncology.
“I shadowed some pediatricians over the past year and I really enjoyed working with children,” he said. “One of the pediatricians I got to shadow was Dr. Jay Lakhani. I really enjoyed working with children because you get to work with the child who is the patient and hearing them explain how they are feeling — it’s always entertaining — but you also get communication with the parents.”
He has chosen oncology because of his lived experience with his grandparents.
“I would go to their appointments with them and be the extra set of ears at the doctor, and hear what is going on,” he said. “Through their process and going through it with them, I really appreciated the oncologists because it’s a tough field but it’s very rewarding when a patient is cured or is in remission and you can go on to see them lead happy lives.”
Barclay’s path to where he is today began when he was researching universities and scholarships. He said he wanted to get the most benefits, and he found them in the Yeager Scholar program within Marshall’s Honors College. The program awards the recipient full tuition, room and board, an annual stipend, a textbook allowance, a personal computer and a study abroad experience at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
“I decided I would go for the longshot and apply for the scholarship,” Barclay said. “Long story short, I got the scholarship. I was thrilled. I remember the day. It was March 20, 2015. I opened up my letter — it was a snow day off school — and I instantly accepted.”
He had never been to campus or Huntington, but he felt at home immediately.
“The people were very friendly on campus,” he said. “I remember Dr. Nikki LoCascio, (dean) of the Honors College; she took the time to know my name, know where my family was from and what I wanted to do for my career. It was that personal investment, I definitely could tell Marshall has the benefits I’m looking for but also it had the small-town feel I was used to.”
As a freshman, Barclay was an energy management major in the Lewis College of Business, and while he enjoyed his classes, he said he wasn’t sure it was the right fit for him.
He did an internship with then-Rep. Evan Jenkins and he witnessed the number of calls the congressman received from constituents about health care.
“People had concerns with VA benefits and black lung benefits,” he said. “Also a lot of people were concerned with healthcare availability. So hearing those discussions, and I also enjoyed being able to hear people’s concerns and provide a solution. I always enjoyed politics, but I wanted to do it in a more day-to-day career, and not be at the whim of an election. Medicine is still something where you get that personal connection with someone where you hear their concerns and then you have to respond and find a solution of some type.”
Barclay said people always ask him how international affairs pairs with medicine, but he thinks it makes perfect sense.
“I wanted to take those two together because the Yeager program includes so much about international affairs and looking at how to be a better global citizen, so I figured that I wanted to pursue a career in medicine but I figured international affairs would complement that so I could see other country’s health care systems to look at health disparities around the world.”
The Yeager Program allowed Barclay to travel, visiting the United Kingdom and Tanzania, trips that further strengthened his resolve to marry his world view with medicine.
Barclay’s trips with the Yeager program were the first time he had left the country and gave him educational experiences he would not have been able to have otherwise. He studied modern warfare and the response to the refugee crisis in Oxford and volunteered at an orphanage in Tanzania.
Barclay said the Yeager Scholar program gave him a second family, as well. In the intimate Yeager lectures, the students bond over shared ideas and debate and the rigor of the program brings them together.
“For me, the Yeager program, what’s special about it, is that I was able to not only gain access to professors and have a very personalized education, but I created a tight-knit family within my class but also within the entire program and that’s good to have,” he said. “A lot of us don’t agree on political views; we don’t agree on some big, scholarly arguments, but we can bounce the ideas off one another and I appreciated the atmosphere of always being challenged.”
He said if he had one big takeaway from the program, it would be to always have a question ready.
“In the seminars, you can’t just say your opinion but why you are led to believe it and what led you to developing that opinion,” he said. “I think that’s the strength of the Yeager Program, you are always thinking about what’s next.”
Barclay says there is a perception that Yeager Scholars are some sort of perfect student, but they stress and pull all-nighters just like any other student.
But it is true, he admits, that the students in the program take on a lot. Barclay was no exception in his four years at Marshall.
Barclay is leaving Marshall a world champion in speech and debate, winning several titles as a member of the Thundering Word.
After completing high school, Barclay said he wanted to find a new outlet from student government, which he had participated in since eighth grade. Speech and debate became that outlet.
Late Thundering Word coach Danny Ray, who died suddenly in 2016, took Barclay under his wing, vowing to make him a national champion.
“We spent a year and a half following Danny’s passing trying to rebuild,” he said. “We started under new leadership of Clara Adkins and Nancy Jackson, and they really provided the leadership we needed to get through that healing period and through that healing period it reminded me of why I do speech and debate — it was the advocacy.”
Moving through tournaments this past year, Barclay was doing a persuasive speech about the opioid epidemic, but it wasn’t doing well. So halfway through, heading into nationals season, Barclay chose to scrap the speech, turning an informative speech about the pharmaceutical industry into a persuasive speech.
“It won the state championship and the next tournament was the world championship and it won,” he said. “We were surprised because it was a very young speech that I hadn’t had a lot of time to develop. But it was a special time my senior year, to go from Danny Ray thinking I would be this champion as a freshman and then under the leadership of Clara and Nancy, who were dear friends of Danny, they were able to fulfill that vision.”
After taking a break from student government, Barclay dove back in his senior year, hoping to take what he learned from Thundering Word and make a difference on campus.
Teaming up with Hannah Petracca, who Barclay said was a bit of a rival before but there was a mutual respect, the two won narrowly.
“My cabinet and team was there and we just had this moment where we prayed, just saying if we lose, we know it was what was meant to be,” he said. “It was one of those eerie moments where you are super-nervous but a calm comes over you. I think having friends around me and then getting the news we had won, it was shocking, it was exciting. It was the moment I felt my life flip upsidedown.”
The two were able to start a mental health awareness campaign on campus and worked with university President Jerome Gilbert to have professors use cheaper textbooks. He advocated for students at the West Virginia Legislature and worked with the Board of Governors, which he said was a rewarding experience, learning from members like Phyllis Arnold, who taught him how to be a thoughtful leader.
As he wraps up his successful undergraduate career, it is clear Barclay will continue to serve and change lives.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.
NAME: Hunter Barclay
HIGH SCHOOL: Mountain Ridge High School, Frostburg, Maryland
HOBBIES: Running, board games, watching “Survivor”
FAVORITE BOOK: “Grey Mountain” by John Grisham
“I always enjoyed politics, but I wanted to do it in a more day-to-day career, and not be at the whim of an election. Medicine is still something where you get that personal connection with someone where you hear their concerns and then you have to respond and find a solution of some type.”