I learned that embracing your interests, even if they are not necessarily traditional, will take you farther.
Katie Houston was very worried about taking Organic Chemistry. It was her first semester at Juniata College and she knew it would be a really tough course. She went to talk with her advisor about it, but feared he would tell her it was “a must” if she was really going to pursue a biochemistry program of emphasis (we call them “POEs” at Juniata, but we’ll get to that later). To her surprise, though, he said to her: “You don’t need to take it right away -- what else are you really interested in?”
Katie had been involved in drama club and theatre since the fifth grade, and so she volunteered that she’d love to take an acting class, though in truth, it felt to her, at the time, frivolous to take a course just for the love of it: “I felt it was irresponsible because it was outside of my intended field of study, but my advisor assured me it would be just fine.”
That one small decision, Katie would later say, “had an immeasurable aftermath.” It gave her the time to think about who she was and what was meaningful to her.
Over the course of her four years at Juniata, working closely with her advisers, she designed for herself an education, still rooted in the sciences, that embraced her love of chemistry, art, and the stage. In France, she took a course on theatre. In London, she analyzed the pigments of 18th century portraits at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Back in the United States, she attended national research conferences. She even helped plant a vineyard in order to study the chemistry of winemaking.
As for that dreaded Organic Chemistry course? Katie took it the very next semester and aced it. It was one of her favorite classes at Juniata, and inspired her to adjust her academic focus to better match her intellectual talents.
She says, “At Juniata, I learned that embracing your interests, even if they are not necessarily traditional, will take you farther.” And indeed, Katie has gone far. She is now a National Science Foundation research fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.