Ready to Fly

Recent USD graduate Shane Davis '19, laughing.


The first job I ever had … ”

Shane Davis’ eyes narrow and his face grows solemn as he considers the question, trying to remember. Then the bright smile that his family and friends know from a mile away wreathes his face.

“Free Library of Philadelphia,” he says with a laugh. “I was 11 years old and got a job returning books to the stacks. I got to read. A lot. And, oh boy, did I learn the Dewey Decimal System forward and backward.”

Davis’ work ethic has been a force of nature all his life. In the years before he came to the University of San Diego, he’d worked as a camp counselor and a crossing guard, made cotton candy for a party rental company and was an exhibit demonstrator at the Franklin Institute Science Museum. He had a stint cleaning a fraternity house, a job he fit in around school and another commitment: playing guard on his high school football team.

Davis brought that indefatigable spirit — and infectious smile — across the country to USD, where he earned his degree in biochemistry last May. Two weeks after collecting his diploma, he walked onto the campus of Rutgers University’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School as a first-year med student.

It was a long and improbable journey to get there. As a high-school senior, Davis applied to more than 50 universities and only two in California. He admits he wasn’t all that sure where San Diego actually was. But after a visit, he “slowly started to fall in love with USD.”

Soon after arriving on campus, Davis met biochemistry professor Joe Provost, who immediately saw the first-year’s academic potential. He also saw a young man who needed direction. Provost became Davis’ academic advisor and mentor.

At the time, biochemistry wasn’t at the top of the first-year’s list of possible majors. “I love to write and I thought I might do something with that,” he says. “But I don’t say no to good things. After meeting with Joe Provost and learning about doing scientific research, I was hooked.”

Nonetheless, Provost says it was a bit of a process to reel him in.

“Shane struggled early on,” Provost recalls. “We sat down together and talked about some strategies to help him understand what it means to be a student at a place like USD.”

Davis devoted a year and a half to his first research project involving molecular cloning. “It didn’t pan out,” Provost says. “He was disappointed, I was disappointed. But that’s when he started to adapt. His next project on gene splicing was huge, but he made every one of the sequences work. It was great to see him so confident, so excited.”

Davis was also hooked on another passion: football. It didn’t pass the notice of USD’s football staff that the biochem major from Philly was also a powerful offensive lineman. But it wasn’t long before Davis knew he had to choose one team to focus on.

“I love being part of a team,” he says. “I wanted to be part of a research community like I was part of a football community. So I went to the coaches and thanked them and told them I wanted to devote more time to research and my education.”

Davis left the football field for the lab. He became part of a research team that would spend 10 to 20 hours a week — in addition to class time — working in his mentor’s lab in the Shiley Center for Science and Technology. Provost and other chemistry faculty members always knew when Davis was in the house. “We’d be having a meeting on the floor above the lab, and we could always hear Shane’s laugh coming from down below. Shane is very positive and he helps draw the best from other people.”

Sitting in the sun just weeks before graduation, Davis takes a moment to reflect. His large, expressive eyes seem to focus on something far, far away.

“I wasn’t supposed to make it this far,” he says as if it were just one more scientific fact. “When I came here, I had a greater fear of falling than of flying. But I had faith in myself and found a lot of other people who had faith in Shane Davis, too.”

His solemn face is in an instant transformed by the wide smile and dancing eyes.

“My full name is Shane Maxwell Davis,” he laughs. “Shane M.D. And in a few years, I’ll be Shane M.D., MD. How cool is that?” — Tim McKernan

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