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Alumni Spotlight: April Pruitt '20

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April Pruitt ’20 has always had a passion for science, an inquisitive mind, and knew that she wanted to change the world through her research.

Pruitt is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in neuroscience at Yale University. She was recently awarded one of seven predoctoral fellowships from the Autism Science Foundation — a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding innovative autism research. This fellowship will allow her to fund her research and further her goal of positively impacting the lives of people with autism. Pruitt is already making a name for herself in the scientific community, and she’s incredibly grateful to UL Lafayette for launching her career in academia.

Originally from Opelousas, Pruitt decided to attend UL Lafayette because it felt like home. “When I stepped on campus, it felt like a place where I could see myself living and thriving,” Pruitt said. She immediately dove headfirst into her studies and immersed herself throughout campus.

Pruitt studied biology with minors in chemistry and psychology as an undergraduate student. She initially thought she wanted to pursue medical school, but as she got more involved in research labs around campus, her priorities changed. “As I started doing research at UL Lafayette and participating in summer programs, my goals shifted to focus more on translational research,” Pruitt said.

Outside of her studies, she soaked up as much campus life as possible. She was heavily involved with several student organizations, including the University Program Council, Habitat for Humanity, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. One of her favorite memories was when her sorority nominated her for the 2019 Homecoming Court. She was then selected as the Homecoming Queen. “Being able to experience [Homecoming] with my sorority was amazing,” Pruitt said.

As her time at UL Lafayette slowly ended, Pruitt set her sights on her next adventure — graduate school. After applying and interviewing at multiple institutions, Pruitt decided to move across the country to get her Ph.D. in neuroscience at Yale University. She’d developed an interest in autism research throughout her undergraduate career, and Yale was able to provide the resources for her to pursue this passion. “The community at Yale was really supportive, and the research was top-tier,” Pruitt said.

Unfortunately, Pruitt began her journey at Yale right at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Starting graduate school in the middle of a pandemic is a strange experience,” Pruitt said. However, she persevered, thrived in her new environment, and took risks with new research opportunities.

One of her advisors at Yale recommended that Pruitt apply for a fellowship with the Autism Science Foundation. Pruitt was interested in exploring different fellowships to help fund her research, so she decided to take a chance and apply. The rigorous application process included creating a 40-page document that thoroughly detailed what she planned to accomplish. When she found out that she was one of the seven predoctoral recipients to receive this fellowship, she knew her years of hard work had paid off. “It was an amazing feeling,” Pruitt said. Since 2009, the Autism Science Foundation has funded more than $5 million in grants that have positively impacted the lives of people with autism. With this new fellowship, Pruitt adds her name to the list of researchers that have made an impact through this foundation.

After she finishes her graduate degree, Pruitt plans to continue her research in the autism field. “I would even like to have my own lab one day,” Pruitt said. No matter where her journey takes her next, Pruitt knows that she’ll be able to tackle any challenge that comes her way. She’s extremely grateful for everyone who has helped her so far, and she knows she wouldn’t be where she is today without her time at UL Lafayette.

Photo Caption: Alumna April Pruitt '20 in a lab at Yale University. (Photo Credit: Uma Neelakantan)