Teaching & Learning

Out with a Bang: USU Science Valedictorian Makes Maximum Impact

By Mary-Ann Muffoletto |

USU's 2021 Science Valedictorian Nikki Anderson performs a flying side kick. A devotee of Taekwondo, Anderson says martial arts have taught her confidence, respect and determination. She enters the University of Utah School of Medicine this fall.

Dangerous viruses are nothing new to Utah State University College of Science Valedictorian Nicole “Nikki” Anderson. Not that she could have imagined the global pandemic that unfolded as she completed her undergraduate career.

Employed with USU’s Institute for Antiviral Research, Anderson pursues a full-time, leadership role at the institute, where she manages a team and participates in research to find solutions to the SARS-CoV-2 scourge.

“The work we do is urgent, exciting and impactful,” says Anderson, who graduates this week with a bachelor’s degree in human biology, along with minors in chemistry and Japanese. “Research at USU has been an experience I will never forget.”

Prior to COVID-19’s arrival, the Pleasant Grove, Utah native studied less immediate threats – at least for Cache Valley – which resulted in several publications on the Chikungunya and Zika viruses, as well as presentations at research symposiums. Anderson’s efforts garnered numerous accolades, including selection as a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success and designation as an Undergraduate Research Scholar.

Along with hours spent in the lab, Anderson taught for two semesters as an Undergraduate Teaching Fellow in Human Physiology.

Anderson’s determination stems, in part, from her long-time devotion to martial arts. Since age 11, she’s studied Taekwondo. Anderson is a national champion in sparring, a type of kickboxing, and will soon test for her 4th degree black belt.

Pursuit of a combat tradition might seem antithetical to pursuit of a healing profession. Not so, Anderson says.

“Martial arts is more than breaking boards and self-defense,” she says. “It has taught me confidence and respect, and has generated a desire to never give up.”

That drive is apparent in Anderson’s USU career. In addition to her ambitious academic and research efforts, the 2015 Pleasant Grove High School graduate, who entered Utah State on a Presidential Scholarship, has been active in service and leadership activities. She served as president of USU’s chapter of the American Medical Student Association and the LDSSA Returned Missionary Committee. Among the activities she coordinated in these capacities include the university’s highly productive Red Cross Blood Drive, Culture Night, Medical Experience Fairs, “Doc of the Month” events and Mental Health First Aid Training.

“My goal in leadership roles is to consistently inspire others, by creating an atmosphere of compassion, high achievement and growth,” Anderson says.

The 2021 graduate’s specific passion for health care, she says, grew from her involvement in a number of volunteer activities, including service in a local hospital’s emergency department, at Utah’s Camp Hobé Cancer Camp and as a medical volunteer in Tijuana, México, along with her employment as a home health aide. Anderson was accepted to several medical schools, eventually chose the U and plans a career in emergency medicine.

Outside of class and extracurricular activities, she enjoys attending USU sporting events, traveling, hiking and fishing with her husband and fellow graduating Aggie, Hayden Ewer, and “discovering the beauty of national parks.”

Utah State, Anderson says, has been an ideal setting to pursue her goals.

"USU's dedicated faculty, the culture of unity and Aggie friendship have prepared me immensely for my career in medicine,” she says. “I’m excited to start the next chapter.”

As an undergrad researcher in USU's Institute for Antiviral Research, Science Valedictorian Nikki Anderson studied several viruses, including SARS-CoV-2. The Presidential Scholarship recipient plans a career in emergency medicine.


Mary-Ann Muffoletto
Public Relations Specialist
College of Science


Nicole “Nikki” Anderson
College of Science


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