By Graham Hays
It’s not quite accurate to say that there is nothing to do outdoors in the depth of an Alaskan winter. Mabel Cummins has the photos to prove it. Childhood snapshots show the future Commodore bundled up against winter’s chill, a family sled dog watching over her.
Cummins spent much of her elementary school years in the state. But even for the hardy, growing up in Alaska encourages a familiarity with indoor pursuits. It’s why she has fond memories of watching shows like NCIS and Bones with her grandmother. And weekend evenings weren’t complete until she and her parents ventured to the local bowling center.
Those surroundings would wind up shaping her life’s journey.
BOWLING & ACADEMIC CHAMPION
Devoted to bowling ever since those Alaska weekend evenings, Cummins grew into one of the preeminent competitors in her age group, particularly after her family moved to the bowling hotbed of the Chicago area.
Those skills eventually helped lead her to Vanderbilt, whose program is regarded as a standard of excellence in the collegiate game. She seized the opportunity to realize her full potential on the lanes, most recently leading Vanderbilt bowling to the program’s third national championship and earning recognition as the 2023 National Player of the Year.
At the same time, the young girl who thrilled at watching forensic whodunits grew into a student fascinated by pathology. A neuroscience major, she was recently accepted into Vanderbilt’s master’s program for biomedical science. After completing that degree in 2025, she intends to apply to medical school.
Once again, she made the most of her surroundings at Vanderbilt, athletically and academically. She turned bowling into lifelong memories and unsurpassed accomplishments. And her curiosity? She turned that into a future.
“It started with the bowling team,” Cummins said. “And it has just become so much more with academics, with research, with all of the different opportunities that have been afforded to me because I chose Vanderbilt. It’s just been an incredible four years.”
Learning from head coach John Williamson and associate head coach Josie Earnest Barnes, Cummins honed her bowling skills to such a degree that she was selected for the United States national team—no small feat for a college bowler. It’s impressive in much the same way as being an undergraduate co-author on a published research paper—an accomplishment Cummins spent her senior year busily pursuing.
In addition to her bowling team, she is part of a research team that has two papers pending acceptance by scientific journals involving auditory alarm research. Working in the Vanderbilt University Medical Center anesthesiology lab, they researched ways to improve the way myriad alerts and alarms convey messages. More efficient communication could reduce stress on patients and help medical staff who can’t help but tune out repetitive noises.
As part of the Immersion Vanderbilt initiative, she participated in a project about appointment scheduling waiting time in American primary care. Working with other research assistants under a Ph.D. student, that team planned to submit their paper to a medical journal this spring.
“This was the first real experience I had with research—seeing something through from beginning to end, from data collection to data analysis to writing our paper, to sending it off to reviewers and to journals,” Cummins said. “I would not have gotten that experience without Immersion Vanderbilt.”
MARK ON THE FUTURE
Cummins is one of the most decorated student-athletes in the program’s illustrious history, so bowling will always be part of her Vanderbilt legacy. Even as she begins graduate school next year, she’s excited to remain involved with the bowling team through alumni relations and recruiting efforts.
The sport helped bring her to Vanderbilt and allowed her to make her mark on Vanderbilt history. But it’s through everything else Vanderbilt offered over the past four years that Cummins hopes to make her mark on the future.
“You can look me up on the internet, and right now, I just show up with bowling achievements,” Cummins said. “But it will be really awesome when you can look me up and also see academic achievements to show the world that, ‘Hey, I’m more than just a student-athlete or a bowling star at Vanderbilt. I am the whole package—with bowling, with academics, with research, everything that I do. Because I bring that passion into everything I do.”
DID MOVING FROM ALASKA TO ILLINOIS AND THEN TENNESSEE IN HIGH SCHOOL HELP YOU WHEN YOU BEGAN UNIVERSITY?
“I absolutely think moving from place to place has given me some sense of comfort with being uncomfortable. Moving from place to place, it’s hard to get your bearings sometimes. It’s hard to get to know people. Luckily, when we moved to each of these places, we were in there for a couple of years. But I absolutely think it has helped me coming to Vanderbilt, now being on my own as a college student, to adjust to my surroundings.”
YOU’RE A MEMBER OF THE HONOR COUNCIL. WHY WAS THAT OPPORTUNITY IMPORTANT TO YOU?
“The Honor Council is a student-run organization. Our job working with Student Accountability is to uphold the integrity of the Vanderbilt degree. That’s why I was drawn to the Honor Council. I chose to come to Vanderbilt because it’s an incredible school. Everyone knows that. There is a signing ceremony before you start classes as a first-year or transfer student. As I watched the president of the Honor Council give her speech about academic integrity, about the Honor Council, about the honor code and why we have the honor code at Vanderbilt, it was that moment that I knew I wanted to be a part of something that upholds the value of the Vanderbilt degree.”
“It’s an educational process. It’s not supposed to be a punishment. It’s supposed to be an educational opportunity, so you learn how to do things correctly. Vanderbilt has always been about helping students and providing them with the resources they need to succeed. That is why I fell in love with the Vanderbilt Honor Council.”
HOW WOULD YOU EXPLAIN THE VANDERBILT EXPERIENCE TO SOMEONE INTERESTED IN THE SCHOOL?
“If I had to sum up my Vanderbilt experience, it would be that Vanderbilt is challenging but incredibly rewarding. If you work hard, day in and day out, you will get rewarded for it here. You are rewarded through the value of a Vanderbilt degree and all of the different opportunities that you can have. Through research, through working with different professors—we have some incredible professors. You have all of those different opportunities just because you went to Vanderbilt. It’s so amazing to me.”