I remember growing up hearing my parents tell me about our journey to this country for higher education and the opportunity to grow as a person, something that would not be possible back home. As a first generation student with parents that never went to college, it has been a challenging experience here at Grand Valley and in my educational career. Things like study habits, self-regulation, professionalism, pursuing higher education, what kinds of programs are out there, how to apply to programs and internships, how to connect with people, talking to a professor, and even filling out FAFSA were just a few of my struggles that I had to face without my parents being able to help. It has been a very transformation journey here at GV, one which I wouldn't change if asked. I grew to love the Sciences, started to make friends, joined the Pre-MD/PhD club and became president, worked on community health at The Other Way Ministries, explained things I learned in school to my family, met many great counselors, professors and professionals who have helped me find my path, laughed, learned and loved.
I thought that my skin color, class, personal health and educational background would define my limits, but with the support of close friends, mentors, counselors, and programs like TRIO STEM, I was able to look past that and seek more; to seek passions and help others along the way. It wasn't until I started to do research as well, with Dr. Tara Hefferan, that I saw my hard work was going somewhere and taking me places. I was able to do an ethnographic field study, as well as archival, and learn more about the underserved/underrepresented community of the Westsiders, the Westside of Grand Rapids. This touched my heart as I got to hear people's stories and collect data as well. I was able to go to attend conferences here at GVSU, Canada for the national conference for Society for Applied Anthropology, Harvard for the National Conference for Physician Scholars in the Social Sciences and Humanities, and now here in Grand Rapids for the Michigan Sociology Association Fall Conference.
Don't let anyone, not even your own personal health, determine how far you can go! And I would tell anyone that if you don't know what or where you want to go, the best option is to explore and gain experience! Learn what you don't like to minimize your options and do more in the areas that you do like.
Believe in yourself!
My name is Makaela and I am a junior in the Honors college, majoring in Allied Health Sciences with an emphasis in Physician Assistant Studies. Recently, I decided to add a general business minor as well. With that mouthful out of the way, I can tell you a little bit more of who I really am. I was born in Anchorage, Alaska but I was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I come from a military family and have two other sisters. Growing up, my parents never told us of their financial troubles. I was taken out of the dark about the issues they had, when I was applying to colleges. My parents sat me down and informed me that they would not be able to help much with my tuition payments. Neither of my parents had attended college but they always pushed me to be better than them. With that news in my mind, I still decided college was the best option for me. I love school, I love learning and most importantly, I love helping others. My dad saw that passion and fire within me and admired my goals and dreams to attend a university. I was sat down again by my parents a few weeks later, but I was given news that I still cannot fathom to this day. As my dad is in the military, he is given the GI bill. This bill allows him to attend college or a higher education and the army will pay the bill. He decided to pass this bill on to me, even though he always had a dream to attend college. There is not a day go by that I am so thankful for him and all that he has done for his family.
With the money I was given by the GI bill, I was also able to study abroad the 2017 summer semester. I decided I needed to make the most of what I was given and explore the world while I can. I didn’t want the label of “low income” or “first generation college student” to put me down, so I continued to chase my dreams and only worry about the present day. Africa was my next stop for six weeks of my life and I was terrified because I had never been out of the country before. I have never been somewhere that was so loving, community-based and full of love. The value of studying abroad is exponential. I have grown so much as a person from my experiences and the new knowledge I have. Upon returning home, I am happier, more involved and realizing what truly matters in life. There is no bill that can be put on a study abroad experience. Every day, I wish to discover the world more. My toes have been dipped into the vast arena of traveling and I have already started looking at studying abroad for a second time. There is an entire world to see out there, don’t let labels tie you down. Prove to yourself that you are more than what society defines you as.
During the summer of sophomore year, I received an email that changed the course of my college career; an invitation to join TRiO STEM. As a first-generation college student, I was never fully aware of the programs, scholarships, and opportunities out there for students. I didn’t have someone to cheer me on into the next big adventure, but as soon as I entered TRiO STEM I began applying to programs that would take me to new places. With the support of TRiO, I made it through the devastating loss of a dear professor and pushed myself to continue following my passions in life, which just happen to be microbiology and honeybees.
In the summer of 2017, I become an undergraduate research fellow at the University of Texas at Austin through the Summer Undergraduate Program for Experiential Research (SUPER). I worked in the lab of Dr. Nancy Moran studying the honeybee gut microbiota. This experience allowed me to become well acquainted with the literature, techniques, and projects associated with the honeybee gut microbiome. My research in the Moran lab involved collaborating with a graduate student to study host specificity of the gut microbes of corbiculate bee. Specifically, we were investigating two specific bacteria found in the gut of social bees (honeybees and bumblebees), Lactobacillus Firm-4 and Firm-5. The goal of this project was to determine if the Lactobacillus strains from the bumble bee could colonize honeybees, and whether they could provide protection against hive pathogens. This project pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to dive into the literature to learn new protocols. Although it was a short internship, this experience allowed me to learn new skills and grow as an independent scientist. I learned new molecular techniques, how to perform bee gut dissections, and refined my skills in experimental design. But perhaps the most valuable skill I learned was how to be more self-directed in my research. Along with the lab skills I acquired, I had the chance present my research to my cohort during the summer and also to a larger group of engineering students. This proved challenging at first, but it made me realize that understanding your audience is key when presenting research. At the end of the program, I not only realized my interest in studying the honeybee gut microbiome, but also in pursuing my doctorate in microbiology and evolutionary biology.
The mentors and staff in TRiO STEM are people that I look up to everyday as inspirations for my future goals of helping others. I want other TRiO students to know that following your passion IS POSSIBLE. I did not come into Grand Valley with the hopes of becoming a honeybee scientist, but as a senior this year I am proud of myself for chasing this dream and turning them into a reality. As of next Fall, I will start my Ph.D. programs at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in Environmental Health Sciences and Microbiology to continue my research on the honeybee gut microbiota. I am so grateful to have TRiO STEM in my life and will always advocate for a student support service like this.