When most students reach the last month of spring semester, the constant refrain is “we’re almost done!”
Those seniors heading to graduate programs, however, have only just begun.
After forcing down an alphabet soup of tests, including the MCAT, GRE, and LSAT, students have finally heard the verdict on where they will spend the next four to six years of their lives.
Whether they hail from the economics, religion, or science departments, these soon-to-be graduate students have spent years and months honing their interests and learning to articulate their passions.
The process of pursuing their particular fields while still in undergraduate work at Hillsdale College has already proven the creativity and resourcefulness they will continue to develop in graduate level work.
Many of them have had to work with professors to pursue a specific interest for which Hillsdale College doesn’t have an established program.
Katie Wright, an economics major headed to Arizona State University to pursue her Ph.D. in sustainability, said her focus on resource economics led to a “transdisciplinary” experience at Hillsdale.
She started by seeking advice from both the biology and economics departments, but, through the advice of associate professor of economics Charles Steele, associate professor of economics, discovered ways to make resource economics “infiltrate basically every part of my life,” including her classes on linear algebra and public finance.
Another upcoming graduate student, Nathan Steinmeyer, traced his interest in Biblical studies through the religion, philosophy, and classics departments.
Steinmeyer convinced Don Westblade, assistant professor of religion, to teach an additional class in Biblical Hebrew and also to supervise two semesters of an independent study program. He then found an opportunity with the classics department’s Joshua Fincher, visiting associate professor, to study the literature of Fincher’s own culture: Judaism.
Steinmeyer’s work has paid off. In the next several years, he will pursue a Masters of Arts in Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which allows him to study “the crossover between history and religion.”
“We tend to over-spiritualize the Bible, especially when it comes to the Old Testament,” Steinmeyer said. “Once you start to learn the history about it, it makes the work so much more beautiful and adds so much depth.”
Madison Frame and Steve Sartore followed a more linear route. Frame will complete her degree in biochemistry this spring, alongside Sartore with his degree in biology.
While Sartore took the pre-med track and looks toward his Ph.D. in osteopathic medicine, Frame’s graduate-level interests drew her to research.
What got Frame “really jazzed about research” was not a class, but rather a research project with Courtney Meyet, associate professor of chemistry, the summer following her freshman year.
Frame’s love for research drove her to pursue graduate work, since graduate school is less about coursework and more about full-time laboratory work, she said.
“Research is discovering new things,” Frame said, “and I love the feeling of doing experiments which no one else has ever done before.”
Frame’s particular interest is with viruses, or, “tiny molecular zombies,” which she plans to research at the University of Michigan as part of its Program in Biomedical Sciences.
This program attracted Frame because of the many virus labs that it offers.
“Having a lot of variety in the options that are available means that there is more opportunity for me to find a mentor that I work well with and a project I’m interested in,” Frame said.
The research project she chooses will shape the rest of Frame’s five years at University of Michigan, similar to a humanities graduate student’s choice of dissertation topic.
Steve Sartore prefers the clinic over the laboratory.
He was accepted into the D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) program at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine near Tampa, Florida.
For Sartore, medicine “is one of the few passions that combines my love of people, love of science, and fascination with the human body.”
While both MD and DO practitioners write prescriptions and perform surgeries, osteopathic doctors (D.O.’s) have additional training in chiropractic work, Sartore said. Osteopathic doctors “try the natural method of healing using the body’s own processes to heal itself before writing prescriptions,” which appeals to his personal philosophy of medicine.
Sartore’s acceptance to Lake Erie College may commit him to more than four to six years in school; it may also involve another four to six years as a doctor in the United States Navy.
Sartore is pursuing a Navy scholarship for his time in medical school for the chance to treat “the best of the best” and because of his personal admiration for Navy men.
“I’ve been surrounded by Navy people with Chief Rogers, Coach Harner, and my next door neighbor,” Sartore said. “They all have exemplary character, and they’re products of the Navy.”
In the next several years, senior Razi Lane hopes to find himself among Navy personnel as well. This fall, Lane will attend University of Notre Dame’s law program, with the goal of practicing military law as part of the JAG (Judge Advocate General’s) Corps.
“Law is a field that is not only dynamic in today’s world, but which also offers the most flexibility in terms of access to opportunities to help people,” Lane said.
Practicing military law in the Navy would involve “everything from family law to uniform code of military justice,” Lane said, in addition to exposing him to the influence of maritime law on marine policy.
The University of Notre Dame was Lane’s top choice and attracted his attention because “they want to be a force for good, and I’ve always wanted to continue that tradition.”
To some, including intimidated undergrads, being accepted into graduate school represents the road to a successful career. But these students aren’t pursuing a paycheck, a million-dollar suburban house, or a Mercedes SUV.
“It’s definitely a balancing act,” Steinmeyer said. “Going on in your career is incredibly important…but you’re going to have your whole life to pursue your career. It’s very important to take the time today to spend time with friends and time doing the things you love.”
Sartore represents a consistent theme among Hillsdale’s upcoming graduate students: he finds some of the things he loves most in his field of interest.
Sartore explained his interest in osteopathic medicine: “You get to take away pain. How many people to you talk to that can say, “I take away people’s pain for a living? On top of that, they tell me I get paid to do that? That’s awesome.”
Wright found her desired specialty in resource economics through her pre-existing love for nature. After plunging herself into resource economics, she realized she couldn’t see herself doing anything but researching fisheries and water rights.
In addition to her fascination with fisheries, Wright found that resource economics wasn’t simply a story of state-of-natural survival, but held opportunities to “benefit the resource and the consumer by just defining the rules of the game.”
Lane’s motivation is simply “the desire to help people.”
“I want to put myself in a position where I can help as many people become the very best people they can possibly be,” he said.