By Dr. Kristin Drexler
Faculty Member, School of STEM
About two weeks ago, I met graduate Carolin Michael at our Commencement reception at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Carolin recently graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in natural sciences.
During the Commencement 2022’s Welcome Reception – at a small table near other students and faculty members in the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) – I saw Carolin and her husband having an excited discussion with my colleague, Dr. Shelli Carter. During the conversation, I learned how much of an influence Dr. Carter and our associate dean, Dr. Danny Welsch, had been to Carolin.
As a student of Dr. Carter’s, Carolin was inspired to continue her studies in molecular biology. Dr. Carter wrote her a strong reference to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) program, and Carolin announced she had been accepted into their master’s program. I conducted an interview with Carolin shortly after Commencement weekend.
Related link: What Makes Our Commencement So Special for Everyone?
Dr. Drexler: How was Commencement? How was that experience, and what did it mean to you?
Carolin: Commencement weekend was absolutely mind-blowing! The venue is breathtaking and finally meeting all those online friends, classmates, and professors was long overdue.
The experience of being recognized for the hard work I put in to earn the degree was worth attending Commencement. To be honest, the fact that I now hold a bachelor’s degree is still sinking in, as it seemed like an endless journey when I started and even still when I was halfway through.
Dr. Drexler: What is your background?
Carolin: I was born and raised in Germany and moved to the U.S. in 2015 after I married an American. I had already completed a three-year vocational training as a laboratory technician and had worked for five years as a biological laboratory technician. But around the time of the move, I was a stay-at-home mom.
Dr. Drexler: What were you studying? What was the degree you earned?
Carolin: I chose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in natural sciences to gain additional knowledge of the biotech industry. I took courses in math, biology, chemistry, and English writing, and then I finally took my beloved molecular biology and genetics elective courses.
Dr. Drexler: Was there a notable professor or two who stood out to you, who helped you get where you are today?
Carolin: YES, absolutely! Our associate dean of the School of STEM, Dr. Danny Welsch, and my professor Dr. Shelli Carter were both so encouraging.
Dr. Drexler: What were your favorite classes? What classes do you still want to take?
Carolin: Molecular biology and genetics. These topics just absolutely fascinate me, but I suppose that is a matter of preference. I might take a graduate-level statistics class in the future, which could be applied toward my master’s degree
Dr. Drexler: What was your learning experience like overall? Would you recommend it to others?
Carolin: Overall, I liked the online university experience, especially since it enabled me to attend college while also being a mother of two toddlers. Diving into academic texts after a day of slobber and diapers kept me sane, to be honest.
I would recommend it to people who are driven and disciplined, because it is really easy to fall behind in your classes and almost impossible to catch up. I hope that there will be more video lectures in the future; just reading textbooks got old in the end and deprives you of the experience to learn from the spoken word.
Dr. Drexler: What will this degree do for you? What will it help you achieve?
Carolin: This degree already did it for me! It enabled me to apply to and successfully enroll in a local molecular and cellular biology master of science program.
Dr. Drexler: What are your next steps? Hopes?
Carolin: As I have already completed one semester of the master’s degree, I will work hard on finishing it within the anticipated two-year timeframe, although that goal could get tight with the amount of research I was assigned. I hope to do well in my education and, although nothing definitive has been decided yet, am vaguely thinking about continuing my education after my master’s. There are a lot of moving pieces, though.
Dr. Drexler: Tell us about your research.
Carolin: My research project uses the fruit fly as a model organism to study genetics that apply to humans as well. Isn’t it mind-blowing that fruit flies and humans have similar genes that serve comparable functions? An example of Nobel Prize winning research on the fruit fly that is also valid for humans is the mechanism of the circadian rhythm.
Dr. Drexler: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Carolin: I would like to thank my husband for being everlastingly supportive regarding my educational goals and my parents for their generous financial help. I appreciate it!
Dr. Drexler: Thank you, Carolin, and best of luck to you. On behalf of Dr. Welsch, Dr. Carter, and all the other students and faculty with whom you’ve shared your positive and encouraging energy, we are all cheering you on!
Related link: The University Mace: An Essential Commencement Tradition
About the Authors
Dr. Kristin Drexler is a full-time faculty member in the Space Studies and Earth Sciences Department. She teaches geography, environmental science, earth system history, conservation of natural resources, and earth and planetary sustainability for the School of STEM. She earned her Ph.D. in educational leadership at New Mexico State University by researching socioecological systems, sustainable agroecology and community education. She earned her Master of Arts in international affairs with an emphasis in natural resources management from Ohio University. Dr. Drexler earned the Undergraduate Excellence in Teaching Award for the APUS School of STEM (2020) and the Dr. Wallace E. Boston Leadership Award for American Public University System (2021). Kristin has conducted numerous community surveys in Belize regarding agroforestry, conservation and sustainable agriculture. Dr. Drexler serves as a faculty advisor for the university’s wSTEM and AWIS chapters. She is presently an investigator for the research study, “A Case Study Comparison of Pandemic Experience of Indigenous Groups in the Americas.”
Carolin Michael is a full-time molecular and cellular biology graduate student at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS). As a graduate research assistant, she currently investigates genetic causes of neurodegenerative diseases using the fruit fly as a model organism. Additionally, Carolin is a member of the Sustainability Committee at UCCS. Carolin earned her bachelor’s in natural sciences with a concentration in biology at American Public University. She served as an officer for the University’s National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS) chapter and received the Officer Award for exceptional performance in 2020.