Emma Scribner’s brain isn’t quite like anyone else’s—and that’s just the way she likes it.
It’s so cool how we can see colors in music,” a young Emma Scribner commented while listening to the radio with her mother in the car. Her mom stopped, concerned about her elementary-school-aged daughter. “Are you hallucinating?” she asked.
It was the day Scribner realized not everyone sees the world the way she does.
“It’s easy to think whatever you’re experiencing might be normal,” she says. But Scribner soon learned that the patterns, shapes, and colors she sees in response to rhythms and beats are a unique expression of synesthesia—a condition which frequently affects those with epilepsy.
Diagnosed with the chronic seizure disorder when she was 6 years old, Scribner—now a junior studying neuroscience at UT—says she’s always been fascinated by the brain.
During her freshman year in high school, Scribner’s seizures became more frequent. As medicine was no longer helping maintain them, her family found a doctor in Houston who recommended a risky surgery to remove a part of her brain where they believed the seizures were coming from.
The region they had to remove processed memory and language. Scribner was told she might need language therapy to talk again after the surgery.
“It was a lot of risk,” Scribner says. “I didn’t think I’d be able to go very far afterward.”
She took the challenge as motivation to work even harder in school. A few years later when she graduated in the top 1 percent of her class, Scribner was shocked.
The New Braunfels, Texas, native applied to UT, and was contacted by the Polymathic Scholars Program, which is meant for undergraduates with interests beyond any single science. Part of the honors community in the College of Natural Sciences, the program offers a certificate which allows for a personalized, interdisciplinary field of study while obtaining the college’s new bachelor of science and arts degree.
“I toured the campus with the Polymathic Scholars, and I fell in love,” Scribner says. “There were so many things I wanted to do, and the program was perfect. I’m definitely a polymath. I have so many different interests.”
Scribner always knew she wanted to study neuroscience because of her experiences with epilepsy and her desire to help others with brain-related issues, but it wasn’t until her sophomore year that she decided to focus on the brain’s relationship with art.
“I look at [epilepsy] as something good coming out of something difficult,” she says. “I try to incorporate what I experience every day into my art.”
Scribner finds time outside of school to create mixed media artwork with objects and textures she finds around the house—from nail polish to melted beads. But she’s also exploring a new art form: modeling.
Standing at 5-feet-10-inches, Scribner says she’s always been told she had the height for modeling. So in fall 2015, she decided to try it out. She found a Facebook page for Austin models and photographers and posted that she was interested.
“I found a lot of local photographers to help me get started with my portfolio,” she says. “I learned a lot—it’s not as easy as I thought it would be.”
As it seems to happen with most things Scribner does, she was surprised by how quickly she found success.
She heard about a new social app, Clapit, which had partnered with Muse Model Management in New York to host a modeling competition to find someone to represent the app. Admiring the company’s goal of creating a positive community, Scribner decided to try out for the competition.
“They flew the finalists to New York,” she says. “I found out I won within a couple hours of landing. I’m still in awe.”
Scribner has signed a three-year modeling contract with Muse and hopes it will be an opportunity to increase awareness about art therapy and epilepsy.
Though her surgery helped reduce the severity of her seizures, they returned a couple of years later. Scribner continues to struggle with weekly seizures and some memory and language loss, but she says it hasn’t held her back.
She plans to attend graduate school to become an art therapist and hopes to work with children.
“It’s a great therapy,” Scribner says. “Art helps you learn about yourself.”
Photo by Anna Donlan
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