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Originally from Wyoming, Michigan, Olivet College alumna Elizabeth Bailey ’14 has always had a passion for biology. During her time at Olivet, her primary major was biology with a pre-medical concentration, and she pursued a minor in biochemistry that turned into a chemistry major by the time she graduated. Outside of classes, Elizabeth was very involved on campus; she was a part of the basketball team, the Gruen Chemistry Society, Alpha Pi Upsilon, Sigma Zeta, National Organization of Women, Science Club and Earthbound, and she worked at the Kirk Center. Elizabeth also spent time volunteering and working at Eaton Community Palliative Care.

Growing up, Elizabeth’s family was a very low income family. While other family members had some college education, none went out to pursue a career. Elizabeth recalls talking with her father about going to college and how important it was to go into a career she loved. After high school, she set out on a mission to achieve her goals.

Elizabeth attended a college out-of-state before transferring to Olivet College. She said, “I chose OC because I had an opportunity to play basketball, and OC had a good rate of people being accepted to medical school. I had recalled attending a basketball camp at OC as a high school student and checked it out on a whim — it ended up being a great choice. Serendipitously, the science programs were great.”

Elizabeth knew she made the right choice by attending Olivet when she was working with Dr. John Wilterding, professor of biology and chemistry, on the classwork and extra activities he provided. Elizabeth said, “I could just tell things were clicking, and I had not had that experience at the college I attended the prior year.”

Elizabeth’s connection with Dr. Leah Knapp, professor of biology, also solidified her choice transferring to Olivet; “I could not leave a meeting with her without feeling like I was exactly where I should be.”

After graduating from Olivet in 2014, Elizabeth attended graduate school at South Dakota State University for their doctorate program in biochemistry. Elizabeth feels that Olivet prepared her by challenging her to use critical thinking skills and understand concepts instead of just memorizing content. “Even though I did not have much formal research experience going into grad school, it was my ability to think about a problem and be excited to investigate it that got me through a lot of the time,” Elizabeth said. “I attribute that tenacity and passion to the classes I took because it was just contagious from the instructors.”

In Elizabeth’s grad program, she focused on a receptor on the surface of macrophages called FcγR; it is attributed to their functions in the immune system. “In this work, I learned a lot about biophysics and microscopy. Specifically, I used light microscopes to visualize receptors and study how spacing of receptors on the cell surface controls receptor activation and immune response,” Elizabeth explained.

Elizabeth’s grad research helped guide her to what she does now. “My graduate work made me more interested in signaling as well as with other sophisticated microscopy techniques that would get at my remaining questions,” Elizabeth added. Currently, Elizabeth is working as a postdoctoral fellow under an Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Awards (IRACDA) program at the University of New Mexico where she performs research and also does professional development and teaching.

Looking back, Elizabeth reflects on her experience as a Comet and how it made her the person she is today. She said, “My experience at OC set the bar very high for classes, in both the quality of the courses as well as the positive interactions with the instructors. If, or when, I am in a teaching position, I hope I will give students a similar experience as I had at Olivet.”

Elizabeth especially enjoys reflecting on her mentorship relationship with Dr. Susanne Lewis, associate professor of chemistry and chair of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Department, and the lasting influence she’s had on her. “Her organic chemistry class is kind of a legend — not unlike boot camp. You come out of it knowing your classmates more than you would have ever expected and you definitely know your O-chem.” Some of Elizabeth’s memories include going to Dr. Lewis’s office to talk about homework, enjoy Jolly Ranchers and even watching comedy skits to decompress. Dr. Lewis helped Elizabeth outside of the classroom as well. Elizabeth said, “She also did a phenomenal job advising the Gruen Chemistry Club. I actually found my graduate school because I was able to go to the American Chemical Society annual meeting with Gruen where I met a recruiter.” Dr. Lewis and Elizabeth still talk regularly even today.

“My experience at Olivet also helped me stay grounded in my own personal identity,” she said. While in graduate school, Elizabeth initially struggled with “fitting the role” of what she thought a graduate student and teaching assistant should look like and act like. “This was new for me, at least from the recent years being at Olivet, I always felt like I could be myself. I think this is because the faculty treats you as an adult or an equal from the get-go. I had instructors that could compliment my pink hair in the same breath as talking about electron orbitals,” Elizabeth said. “Seemingly such small experiences helped instill self-reliance which has been a significant grounding factor in times I was less confident.”

Elizabeth encourages all alumni to stay connected to Olivet. “Going to OC was a positive experience, so of course having the chance to reminisce is great. I also grew a lot while attending OC, and staying connected with the school reminds me of a time when I met challenges daily and overcame them. Sometimes I need that reminder. It is also a continued source of support and, honestly, it’s just fun to see what’s going on,” Elizabeth concluded.

Learn more about Olivet College by contacting the Office of Admission at 800-456-7189 or admissions@olivetcollege.edu.

This feature was written by Audrey Helfrich, a senior majoring in media production and communication. She serves as an intern in the marketing and communications department and is especially interested in photography. After graduation, Audrey plans to continue her work as a freelance photographer, specializing in wedding, senior and family portraits. She also hopes to work in a marketing department for a small business or nonprofit organization.

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