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College Senior Max Wragan (Photo from Max Wragan).

College senior Max Wragan has been named one of 12 Mitchell Scholars to receive funding for one year of postgraduate study in Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

Wragan, who majors in neuroscience at Penn, plans to continue studying neuroscience and chronic pain at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. Mitchell Scholars are provided tuition, accommodation, and a stipend for living expenses and travel. They may study any discipline in any college or university in Ireland or Northern Ireland.

The George J. Mitchell Scholarship program is a national scholarship sponsored by the United States-Ireland Alliance. More than 350 people applied for the Mitchell Scholarship this year.

Wragan wants to complete a master’s program in neuroscience before possibly pursuing a Ph.D. or another graduate program. Wragan said that she chose to study in Dublin because of the city’s close-knit community of neuroscientists. 

She also said that Ireland has a more “interdisciplinary” approach to neuroscience than the United States. 

“The financial structuring of grants and departments in the [United States] limits the depth [of which] you can study the interdisciplinary issue of chronic pain,” Wragan said. “There is less overlap of different disciplines, which is a more suitable environment to study chronic pain.” 

Wragan became interested in the field of neuroscience because she experiences chronic pain herself. Based on her own experience, Wragan realized that there are limitations in the current treatment options for chronic pain, and she wants to correct these limitations by taking a more interdisciplinary approach in her research. 

Wragan plans to use her platform as a Mitchell Scholar to advocate for people with unseen illnesses. She said that people with chronic pain may not be comfortable speaking about it, so she wants to encourage more conversation, especially because chronic pain impacts about 20 percent of people in the United States.

In the future, Wragan wants to develop treatment for patients with chronic pain. She is also interested in working with science policy to bring her work from the lab into everyday life. 

“A lot of times, academia has the issue of not being very accessible to the average person, and I’d love to do better advocacy [for chronic pain] because I care about this issue, because I experienced it,” Wragan said. 

Last March, Wragan was also awarded a Goldwater Scholarship. For her research at Penn, she has also been awarded the Pincus-Magaziner Family Undergraduate Research and Travel Fund and the Ruth Marcus Kanter College Alumni Society Research Grant, Penn Today reported.

Wragan said that the Mitchell Scholarship is unique because of the cohort size of just 12 people. 

“We get to know each other more intimately, and it enables closer connection between the scholars, which is really exciting because I'm the only student studying neuroscience there,” Wragan said. “I really value the community and scholarship and that's something I've learned through my experiences at Penn.”

At Penn, Wragan runs the Satellite Learning Program, which she started at Pomona College before she transferred to Penn. The Satellite Learning Program is a remote program that offers tutoring to students or refugees who are experiencing homelessness. 

Wragan has also conducted research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, George Washington University Hospital, Pomona College, and the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh in Scotland. Her research ranges from studying glial cells, to sequencing DNA of plants that were going extinct, to rolling out clinical trials. 

Wragan first heard of the scholarship through the Center for Undergraduate Research & Fellowships. She applied for the scholarship in August, and after receiving the University’s nomination, she underwent several rounds of interviews in October. 

When Wragan found out she received the scholarship, she said she was caught off guard and excited for the “tremendous opportunity.”

“I am so appreciative,” Wragan said. “There were a lot of people involved in this.”

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