Melissa Sawyer with her BSU diploma at graduation

Melissa Sawyer is a non-traditional student, who just graduated tonight at NHCC with a bachelor’s degree in biology from our Bemidji State University partnership program! If you know Melissa, you know she’s a tenacious student, a loving mother and a proud supporter of NHCC/BSU. Although she’s been previously featured here on our blog, we wanted to reach out and ask Melissa some final questions to reflect on her time at NHCC before graduation.

How would you summarize your NHCC journey?
The summary of my NHCC journey - My first time at NHCC, (as a non-traditional student returning to college) I was scared, lost, I didn't know where I was going. I was supposed to go to my orientation meeting, I ran into the building and I told the poor receptionist, ‘I'm late and I don't know where I'm going!’ She's just said, ‘Don’t worry, this is a small campus. Just go right over here.’ I felt very welcomed and soothed from that moment on. At the meeting, I met professors and I learned about TRIO and Access Services. Later on, I took Biology I and that's when I realized I wanted to discover the biology behind chemistry. So, I started in the Bemidji State University partnership program at NHCC and met with Dr. Andy Arsham. (I still have the original grad plan that he drew up for me…the blueprint I needed that showed me the plan for my future). As time went on, I joined clubs at NHCC, I became a leader of the Biomedical Science Club, I volunteered inside the Tessman Greenhouse and worked in the science lab. I met people on campus and also discovered NHCC’s Food Cupboard (I'm a huge advocate for stopping hunger on campus). A few years later, I became pregnant with my baby scientist, I kept studying and I was even able to represent our fly lab at the National Allied Genetics Conference in Washington DC! There I presented my research to around 4,000 scientists and now I'm graduating! Today, with the help of Career Services at NHCC, I’m now looking for an early career scientist job. Eventually, I’d like to get my master’s degree and return to NHCC to pay it back as a mentor and even start my own scholarship here.

Why did you decide to start at NHCC?
What led me to NHCC - I looked at nine different community colleges and I made a spreadsheet (because I love spreadsheets). NHCC had the best transfer record and the best enrollment and re-enrollment. I looked up NHCC’s stats and they were the best!

Did you always know that you wanted to transfer on to get your bachelor's degree? 
Yes. I've always wanted to get my bachelor's degree. I started at a community college, because I knew that I could get the best education for the best amount of money.  

Can you tell us a little bit about the transfer process? 
I knew I wanted to get my bachelor's degree in chemistry. So, I looked up what the transfer rate was from NHCC to the U of MN and it was almost 72%. In my research, credits not transferring has been the downfall. People will take classes that don't transfer because they don't look forward. You need to find the right advisor to guide you and do not be afraid to ask questions, questions and more questions. 

What has motivated you during college? 
Me. When I want something, I make a plan, I take action and I follow it through. My only downfall is being a perfectionist procrastinator. I've just always wanted to have a bachelor's degree, that’s been my motivation and that goal has driven me here. I've always loved to learn. And to anyone who’s ever said, ‘Why are you doing that?’ or ‘You can't do that, you won’t make it’ I just respond with, ‘Watch me!’ 

How do you balance being a parent and a student? 
It's really hard. You need to focus on your mental health and carve out time for yourself. Know when it's time to let go, even if it takes you multiple years. You can't do everything all at one time. On my best days, I: get up early, have a few moments to myself and I just knock out one thing at a time. The most important thing though is to focus on self-care. 

Can you tell us a little bit about the research that you've done at NHCC?
Oh, my gosh! The research that I've done here has been amazing. It started in the summer of 2019, researching microplastics in the waterways (I have a picture of my first time in the research lab and I just look so happy to be wearing a lab coat). Then I got to work in the fruit fly lab at NHCC. I’ve loved it! Researching is actually quite fun and exciting and I didn’t realize that right away. Having the opportunity to do research, right here on-campus has been amazing!

What’s something you think people should know about NHCC, or BSU? 
One thing you should know about NHCC in particular, is that the biology partnership program gives you an amazing network of faculty and fellow students, the classes are smaller than at other schools and this program is more focused. NHCC in particular has been amazing for my mental health and it has kept me going!

Do you feel that NHCC and BSU have prepared you to succeed and start your career? 
Yes. Oh, yes! My work here at NHCC through the BSU program has helped me prepare for a career by giving me soft skills like, (talking to people and presenting), but also hard skills like, (micro-pipetting, working with microscopes, and creating plates), there's a lot of things that you do even in Biology 101 class that can be used in the workplace. I do feel prepared that I'll walk into the workforce with confidence. This is going to be a new journey. I'll be a little nervous. But I’ve learned a lot and I know I'll find my new niche and my new family at whatever career I end up in! 

Congratulations on all of your achievements, Melissa! We can’t wait to see what you’ll do next! 

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