April 10, 2017

Senior Spotlight – Erika Deppenschmidt

You have probably seen her walking around campus, in Doyle Dining or playing on the field, she is the NDMU Women’s College student who is bald, and she owns it!

Erika Deppenschmidt is one of Notre Dame’s fiercest students. She is a senior chemistry major and mathematics minor, excited to walk across the stage in May. She is also a woman diagnosed with Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune disease causing hair loss, at the age of two. Deppenschmidt proudly calls herself the “Bald Girl” and is a true example of a fearless Notre Dame Woman. 

Erika Deppenschmidt with Gabby the GatorBesides excelling in her academics, Deppenschmidt also excels in her extracurricular activities. She is a prominent two-sport athlete, playing four seasons of field hockey and two seasons of swimming. Furthermore, she is in several organizations including NDMU Swim Club, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), and First Impressions. Deppenschmidt is also a member of five honors societies: Gamma Sigma Epsilon (chemistry), Delta Epsilon Sigma (Catholic universities), Chi Alpha Sigma (student athletes), Kappa Mu Epsilon (mathematics), and Tri Beta (biological sciences). 

Her work does not stop there—in fact, it extends out of Notre Dame’s campus. Deppenschmidt has been interning at Johns Hopkins University since June 2016. “The internship I did through Hopkins is called the ‘Sister Alma Science Year’ program where three students from Notre Dame are selected for a year-long internship in a lab of their choice at JHU,” she explains. “I decided that I wanted to work in a drug research lab. I am at the School of Medicine working in the pharmacology department under Dr. Jun O. Liu’s lab.” 

Deppenschmidt has already been accepted into two post doctorial programs. She finds her academic experience at NDMU and what she has been able to accomplish ’s astounding workis  is preparing her for her future goals. “My plan after graduation is to continue my education by going to graduate school for cellular and molecular pharmacology at one of the universities that I applied to. I would love to get my Ph.D. in pharmacology and conduct my own research since I have been in a lab environment since I was able to work,” she says. Her first job was as an apprentice at a lab where she conducted research on mice and their taste preferences. “The lab is where I feel most comfortable, since I am a huge nerd. But my ultimate goal is to have my own lab and allow students to thrive under my knowledge and funding, just like I was able to do and therefore, find myself,” she discloses.

Despite sounding like a super-human, Deppenschmidt still faces struggles, especially as a senior. She explains that her fall semester of senior year has been the most trying semester she’s had because of the research she was doing along with taking 18 credits, playing field hockey, taking GRE exams, applying to graduate school programs, and other extracurricular activitiess. “It was a lot of workoverwhelming, but I succeeded in everything and that is all I can ask for myself,” Deppenschmidt reflects. 

Deppenschmidt also claims that having alopecia has made her a stronger Notre Dame woman. Last summer, she wrote an article on what it’s like to have alopecia on Odyssey Online, a content site for college students. Since its publication, her article “Walk in the Shoes of ‘The Bald Girl’” has gained 1.7k shares. “I believe whole-heartedly that I would not be who, or where, I am today without alopecia,” she explains. “Although there are very bad days where I am upset and hate myself and how I look, I honestly wouldn’t trade how alopecia has changed my life.” Alopecia has allowed Deppenschmidt to understand what true beauty is and how to accept herself as an individual, a truly inspiring message to everyone around her. 

Although it’s a nerve-wracking experience, Deppenschmidt looks forward to “getting started on [her] life.” However, she will miss Notre Dame and not coming back in the fall. “I wish I would have cherished my time here at Notre Dame a little more than I did,” she says. And if she could pick a word to describe her whole Notre Dame experience, it would be “successful.”