Hospitals aren’t usually considered relaxing settings. There are many reasons for this, and one that tops the list for most people is the sterile odor that permeates the hospital environment, from hallways to research labs. But Barrington Bucknor, a biochemistry and neuroscience major in the College of Arts and Sciences , feels right at home. “For some reason, when I'm in a hospital I feel very comfortable,” he says. “I just really love the smell of bleach or being in a sanitized room.”
Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, Bucknor arrived at Syracuse University determined to get involved. Rather than choosing one opportunity, he initially spread himself thin trying to figure out where he could fit in and make an impact. “There are only so many hours in a day, so I'm not able to do everything,” he says, “but I still like to push myself to the limit.”
Before long, he found a cause that resonated with him personally: Camp Kesem at Syracuse University , the local chapter of a national organization dedicated to supporting children who have a loved one affected by cancer. “It reminded me of my mother,” says Bucknor, whose maternal grandmother died of cancer when his mother was a teenager, leaving her and her siblings to face the trauma of profound loss at a young age. “When I heard of an organization that helps children get through one of the hardest times in their lives, I knew I had to get involved,” he says.
Bucknor has worked as a camp counselor and program leader at Camp Kesem, and he now serves on the Syracuse chapter’s board. Working with campers is about supporting them in whatever way they need, he explains. “We’re their best friend when they need one, their silent partner and even their goofy older sibling if we have to be,” he says. “We create an atmosphere for them to be whoever they want to be, to detach from reality and go into their safe place when the harshness of this world gets too overwhelming.” This year, he took on the added responsibility of planning the organization’s annual fundraiser gala. “Camp Kesem has helped me understand that I really want to be able to give myself to others, to be of service to someone else,” he says.
Bucknor’s passion for service and his atypical preference for hospital settings inspired him to pursue a career in medicine. As he prepares for medical school, he’s participating in the Strategic Undergraduate STEM Talent Acceleration Initiative (SUSTAIN) program at the College of Arts and Sciences. SUSTAIN has allowed him to work in a research lab studying the protein ubiquitin, which helps to regulate the function of other proteins in the body. Students in the program are mentored by faculty who help them gain confidence in the lab and build connections with other scientists.
He is also working with the Pre-Health Advising office, which supports undergraduates by helping them secure a committee letter from Syracuse University—often a required step in the medical school application process. Bucknor is the first person in his family to choose medicine as a profession, so while they're supportive, they don’t fully understand the steps it takes to become a doctor. “Going through this process right now is a learning experience for all of us,” he says.
Bucknor is especially interested in neuroplasticity, which involves the brain’s ability to rewire itself after a traumatic injury. “I'm really intrigued by the brain and how it works,” he says. His experience working with children at Camp Kesem has bolstered his fascination with the brain’s resilience. “I'm not sure how I would handle it if I lost someone really close to me. They have been able to find beauty through what has happened.”