She answered the call in GCU research … and beyond

December 17, 2018 / by / 0 Comment

GCU’s Emily Branch served as a graveyard-shift emergency medical technician, delved into an internship with Special Olympics and conducted undergraduate research on Sonoran Desert plants, all while maintaining a full class schedule. She also had three job offers before receiving her health care administration degree Friday.

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

Emily Branch didn’t hesitate to dive into the deep end when she launched her studies at Grand Canyon University.

A swimmer in high school, the Phoenix resident was planning on competing on a swimming team in college, but a spinal injury made her rethink those plans. That’s when she turned her attention to GCU.

“(GCU President) Brian Mueller — he’s a family friend, so I’m like, ‘OK, let’s go to GCU. I’m coming!’” she said.

Branch, who graduated on Friday morning — after just 3 ½ years — with her Bachelor of Science Degree in Health Care Administration, accepted a position at Phoenix Children’s Hospital as an administrative assistant for the hospital’s foundation.

Branch (right) focused on testing aloe vera and curry for their medicinal properties.

It was one of three job offers she had before even walking the graduation stage during commencement on Friday — something not surprising, considering her accomplishments. Not only did she tackle a full slate of classes; she also worked as an emergency medical technician, interned for Special Olympics and delved into undergraduate research work on a team of biologists, biomedical engineers and the like who are testing extracts from Sonoran Desert plants to see if they might hold the secret to the next big cure.

Neither of her parents are in the medical field. Her dad is an engineer and her mom has been a college administrator. But her interest in helping people prompted her to get her start in the nursing college, which inspired her to become an EMT.

“I just love medicine, and I’m kind of an adrenaline junkie,” Branch said with a smile, donning her graduation cap and gown with her fellow graduates outside GCU Arena.

“I got my (EMT) license in the summer of my sophomore-junior year,” Branch said. A few months later, she was serving west Phoenix for American Medical Response.

It wasn’t uncommon to see her with a bandage on her finger or her hand. It goes with the territory when you’re a researcher or involved in EMT work.

“I’ve been working graveyards out in this area for about a year,” Branch said. Being in the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions – health care administration falls under the banner of CONHCP — “Definitely, it got me interested in public health, and this area is drug and crime-ridden. It (being an EMT) opened my eyes to that being what I wanted to do with my life.”

So she decided to transition into health care administration: “I realized patient care, the direct care, was awesome … but the actual long-term care was just something I wasn’t very good at.”

Branch worked under the direction of College of Science, Engineering and Technology biologists Drs. Daisy Savarirajan and Ramesh Velupillaimani in her research of Sonoran Desert plants.

Branch (second from right) was offered a research position at another university but will remain in Phoenix to work for Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

“I was looking specifically into aloe vera and curry plants,” she said.

The goal, ultimately, is to see if extracts from any of these plants have antimicrobial or cancer-fighting health benefits, namely in helping humans heal from certain ailments or possibly becoming the source of the next big antibiotic in an age when bacteria is becoming more and more resistant to overused antibiotics.

Although Branch is graduating, the Sonoran Desert plant project will continue with other GCU undergraduate researchers. “We made some headway there,” said Branch, who turned down a research position at another university to take the job at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Her work with PCH will be in an administrative support and event-planning role, so she will be working with the hospital’s foundation to set up events.

“She is an amazing student who has really set herself apart and achieved a great deal in her time here at GCU,” said Pascale Lee, lead faculty for the undergraduate health care administration program. “She was invited to attend the annual American College of Healthcare Executives Arizona Chapter dinner in October. She completed an internship this past year with Special Olympics while also holding down a full-time position as an EMT and a full class schedule. She had three job offers. … Overall, just an amazing person. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to have her as a student.”

Branch said working the graveyard shift as an EMT helped her balance her busy schedule, freeing up her daytime hours for school. She kept up with “lots of caffeine, mostly,” she said with a laugh. “I’m young. I can handle it.”

With all she has done in her 3½ years on the GCU campus, she said what she will remember most about GCU is that she really did find her purpose here, and she met so many people who have become close friends.

“I’ve met lifelong friends that I’ll be friends with forever – and just the whole community experience here. When I walk around campus, I at least get 10 people saying, ‘Hi!’ to me. It’s just that tight-knit, family-type community that I love here.”

Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at or (602) 639-7901.

Related content:

GCU Today: “Sonoran Desert: an oasis for new medicines?”

GCU Today: “Grad found her voice for her generation at GCU”

GCU Today: “Business grad shows how to step up to the plate”

GCU Today: Slideshow: Winter commencement, Friday morning ceremony

GCU Today: Slideshow: Winter commencement, Friday afternoon ceremony

GCU Today: Health-care team serves Special Olympics athletes

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