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John McCarty

Player’s biggest score is 4.0 GPA

In basketball and biology, McCarty balances academic and athletic success


​When senior John McCarty isn't in the biology lab working toward Alzheimer's disease breakthroughs, he's playing small forward for the Central Michigan University basketball team — all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.

McCarty says the challenge of balancing studies and athletics has honed his capacity to stay on task and manage his time.

“Numerous experiences, events, people and professors throughout my time at Central have helped to build me into the person that I am today.” — John McCarty

His schedule revolves around basketball, study and research — while taking 15 credit hours every semester. McCarty said the rigorous course load is helping him prepare for next fall, when he will pack his bags and head to New Haven, Connecticut, to attend the Yale School of Medicine Physician Associate Program.

"It didn't seem like it in the moment, but looking back I realize how much work it actually was," McCarty said.  "Sometimes on Friday night if I wanted to take a break or go out with my friends, I'd have to do homework instead, because I knew all of Saturday was booked with a game."

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Biology major John McCarty works in the lab with faculty member Cynthia Damer.

McCarty's accomplishments are part of a pattern of academic success among CMU athletes. The average GPA of CMU students in athletic programs is nearly 3.2, higher than the national average. Around 30 percent of CMU students in athletics maintain a 3.5 GPA — an average of 90 percent or higher in all their classes.

"It's helped to build me"

McCarty said his time at CMU has meant the world to him.

"Everyone talks about how college is some of the best four years of your life, and I wholeheartedly have to agree with that," he said. "Numerous experiences, events, people and professors throughout my time at Central have helped to build me into the person that I am today.

"I wouldn't have been able to gain the research experience I did here at other places."

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John McCarty says his team supports his focus on studies: “They understand basketball is great, but academics are the first priority.”

As a biology major, McCarty conducts research with faculty members Cynthia Damer and Michelle Steinhilb.

Steinhilb is studying how a particular protein becomes toxic in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease, and Damer uses a single-cell slime mold to study basic cellular processes.

"The professors I've worked with have been extremely influential in instilling hard work ethics, critical thinking and determination in all their students. I was fortunate enough to be acquainted with these professors and learn from them," McCarty said.

McCarty is working with the slime mold and how the protein becomes toxic to cells, Damer said.

"We hope to relate that back to how the protein is modified in human brains to cause Alzheimer's disease," McCarty explained.

In the long run, McCarty and his fellow researchers hope to find an inexpensive way to test pharmaceutical drugs for treating Alzheimer's disease.

Meanwhile, McCarty pursues his personal dreams, too.

"It's all been toward my main goal of going to P.A. school, and it just happened that I worked hard enough and made enough sacrifices that I've been able to reach my goal at a place like Yale," McCarty said.

McCarty credits the CMU Honors Program and its open-door policy for supporting his coursework and graduation requirements.

"Whenever I've had a question, they've always been there. That's really helped me succeed here," he said.

As for balancing sports and school, McCarty said the basketball team is 100 percent supportive of his academic focus.

"The basketball staff has been amazing. If I had to miss a half-hour of practice at the beginning, I'd be allowed to stay after to make it up," he said. "They understand basketball is great, but academics are the first priority."


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