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Sarina Adeline McCabe named Knight-Hennessy Scholar at Stanford
Sarina McCabe, Knight-Hennessy scholar

Emory Woodruff Scholar Sarina Adeline McCabe majored in creative writing but also completed pre-med coursework. As a Knight-Hennessy Scholar at Stanford, she will pursue a PhD that allows her to further uncover insights between storytelling and medicine.

— Emory Photo Video

Emory College of Arts and Sciences senior Sarina Adeline McCabe has long sought out original ways to unite her skills in storytelling and medicine to strengthen the community.

This fall, McCabe will continue her interdisciplinary work on medicine, narrative and trauma as a Knight-Hennessy Scholar at Stanford University. The prestigious and highly competitive international program fully funds exceptional scholars’ graduate study in the discipline of their choice. The 2022 cohort features 70 scholars from 27 countries.

McCabe, a creative writing major and Emory Woodruff Scholar from South Bend, Indiana, is the second Emory-affiliated recipient of the five-year-old award. She plans to pursue a doctoral degree in modern thought and literature, a program that tackles complex topics from multiple fields.

“I joke with my mentors that I am the biggest fan of the liberal arts. I thrive on drawing connections,” McCabe says. “I don’t think I would have ended up here without Emory and the support I got for my interdisciplinary work in general and for me as a person.”

McCabe was exposed to the medical field by her mother, Rashella D’Amico, who was a doula before starting medical school at the same time her daughter arrived at Emory. Although she completed Emory’s pre-med coursework, McCabe built her interest in health care through the humanities and person-focused volunteer work.

During her first year at Emory, for instance, McCabe worked as an undergraduate research assistant at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. Her work, interviewing sexually exploited minors and analyzing the narratives, helped develop best-practice frameworks for legal and medical workers interacting with victims.

A rollover crash when McCabe and her family were driving home after the campus shutdown in early 2020 further deepened her interest. Months later, she learned her family had markedly different memories of the accident.

Her stepfather, Jon D’Amico, mostly remembered the motion of the crash that left him with multiple broken bones. Her mother suffered a head trauma but mostly remembered the panic of not being able to see her children to know if they were okay.

A severe concussion and permanent hearing loss left McCabe struggling to piece together what had happened beyond the jolt of adrenaline that got her moving in the moments postcrash when she heard her then-3-year-old sister screaming.

She ended up interviewing her family, then researching hospital and police records to document the event that marked how she remembers the beginning of the pandemic.

She presented her work as the final project in a seminar on history, memory and literature taught by Angelika Bammer, a professor of comparative literature and interdisciplinary humanities who has since become a mentor for McCabe.

“What I love about talking with Sarina is she does not get hung up on the correct way to think about things,” Bammer says. “She approaches things not through a filter of what is expected but what she is experiencing and the question of whether the elements of those experiences affects others. Sarina is extremely attentive and empathetic at the same time.”

McCabe built on those experiences by creating ways to apply her findings. She and her brother, Ezra, collaborated on a book for their younger sister, Rosie D’Amico, to make sense of why she couldn’t visit friends and why their mother was busy at the hospital during the pandemic’s early days.

That idea grew into Ember Publishing House, a press McCabe founded with other Emory students to publish children’s health education books. 

Her interest in understanding trauma from multiple perspectives also led her to train and serve as a crisis counselor and to complete an internship with the DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office.

McCabe also researched and designed a justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) curriculum for the Woodruff Scholars program as part of her campus engagement. The scholars program implemented several of the ideas, including faculty-led conversations on JEDI issues and office hours for confidential conversations.

“Sarina brings an inquiry mindset to every project she undertakes, whether academic or extracurricular,” says Margaux Cowden, who worked with McCabe for two years as director of the Emory Woodruff Scholars program.

At Stanford, McCabe plans to further study trauma as both an empathy-building and desensitizing factor in health care. The ultimate goal is to work across disciplines to develop trauma-informed care that improves patient outcomes, especially among marginalized groups.

Storytelling will be a key component of that research. It also will be central to McCabe’s hopes to expand Ember Publishing into scientifically accurate science fiction for middle-grade and young-adult audiences.

“I’ve learned that capturing stories and being able to process parts of the human experience in ways that others can access is valuable work,” she says. “I am most passionate about increasing opportunities for collaborations that ask the big questions about how cultural and social conditions interact in our stories about medicine.”

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