April Student of the Month: Mechelle Johnson

What is your background?: I am a non-traditional African-American/Latina student. I was born in Chicago, Illinois. However, I’ve been raised in both Iowa and Texas. My parents are both originally from Chicago, but my mom has been in Iowa since I was little and my dad has lived in Texas for the last twenty years. I primarily think of Texas as being deep in my heart, but Iowa is my home. I went to elementary school, junior high, and high school in both Iowa and Texas, but I graduated from high school at Iowa City West High in May, 2012. In high school, I was on the soccer team at Iowa City West High School, and while in Texas, I was on the dance team and step team. I have family in Coralville and I reside in Cedar Rapids with family. The rest of my family lives in Chicago or Texas. I am the oldest sibling. I have a younger sister and twin brothers.

What brought you to Kirkwood and why?: I came to Kirkwood because I felt it was the right decision for me to develop a better transition from high school to college. During my first year of college, I went to a university and it was too much of a change for me. I needed to take time to develop better study habits and instructors that were more available to me. After taking some time off, I came to Kirkwood. I’m glad that I was exposed to a university because now I know what to expect when I transfer to Iowa and I am better prepared.

What is your program of study and what interests you about it?: My program of study is to obtain an Associates of Science degree. I’m transferring to University of Iowa to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering. I became interested in chemistry from being exposed to it in high school, but at the time, I wasn’t considering it as a career.  As a result of being involved in the LSAMP program at Kirkwood, during our Lunch ’N’ Learn series, I met Dr. Tonya Peeples at the University of Iowa. She is an African-American professor in Chemical Engineering and I started considering that field.  It was refreshing to meet someone who looked like me being successful and so I started researching the field and speaking to her during our monthly trips.  Women and minorities are underrepresented in STEM not because we can’t do STEM fields, but sometimes because there are not enough role models that share our experiences and we aren’t raised thinking that we can be successful in STEM. I’ve always wanted to pursue a career that entails science and math, but the subjects have also scared me because of how challenging they are. I’ve come to realize that school, or anything that you want to pursue, will be challenging, if it’s good for you. So I’m ready to take the challenge and work as hard as I can because I know I can accomplish it, if I set my mind to it… and it’s set!

What do you do for fun?: I’m very much a girly girl, but I don’t always have the time or the clothes to be as girly as I want. So when I can, fun for me is, doing my hair, makeup, getting manicures and pedicures, and SHOPPING! Other than that, I just enjoy laughing with family and friends. I enjoy doing things I’ve never done before and meeting new people. I also enjoy working out or dancing. I love big cities, so just walking around downtown and looking at skylines, like downtown Chicago, is very enjoyable to me.

What is the LSAMP-IINSIPRE program and why are you a part of it? What are its benefits?: LSAMP is the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation which is an alliance of 16 institutions in the Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska regions.  The IINSPIRE Alliance (of which Kirkwood belongs to) is a program that gives minorities opportunities that might not always be available to these students. Many times students of color have barriers and lacks of advocates that will help them succeed.  Sometimes lack of support from family is also very discouraging. LSAMP exposes students to doing research as undergraduate students to help better prepare them to pursue careers in the STEM fields. There is a lack of minorities pursuing STEM fields, and LSAMP develops programming (tutoring team, Lunch ’N’ Learn series, mentoring, collaborating with the Biotechnology program on campus, encouragement and support for attending conferences in our respective disciplines, etc.) to help remove some of the barriers that minorities face when it comes to pursuing an education. This past fall semester, when I joined LSAMP-IINSPIRE, our Campus Director, Juanita Limas took another student and I, as well as some staff, to the annual conference they had in Des Moines. The conference was very eye opening and introduced to us the idea of doing research over the summer as an undergrad, which I didn’t even know was possible. Needless to say, the conference and program has changed my life and I’ve been extremely motivated to accomplish my goals. This program has made my goals seem more realistic and beyond attainable. I feel that as a minority student at Kirkwood, there isn’t enough support for minorities and it can take a toll on students. Sometimes, all we need is someone to believe in us, encourage us, and push us a little harder, and that’s what being a part of LSAMP-IINSPIRE has done for me.

You have been selected to participate in some exciting programs and events. Can you tell us about those?: Being a part of LSAMP-IINSPIRE has opened so many doors for me. I was nominated and accepted to participate in the Iowa N.E.W. Leadership Conference at the University of Iowa in May of this year. This is a highly-selective, intensive five-day residential institute designed to empower women across the political spectrum and increase the participation of underrepresented groups in all sectors of public leadership. Only 35 women were chosen out of hundreds of applicants, and only four community college students. I’m very exicted and honored to be a part of it.

I’ve also applied to several different summer research experiences for undergraduates (REU) programs to participate in this summer. They are all very prestigious programs and great opportunities. I was accepted into the Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Institute at the University of Iowa and also applied to the Iowa EPSCoR program at the UI as well as the SROP (Formerly known as McNair’s Scholars Program) at the UI as well. However, I was recently accepted into the California State University, Monterey Bay Ocean Science Research Program for undergraduates. I’ve chosen to do travel to California and spend my summer doing ocean chemistry research since I’ll be at Iowa for the next couple of years after I transfer. This’ll be a great way to get away for the summer and explore this field of science. I’m extremely excited as I will be staying in California for the entire summer. It’s really a great opportunity and I’m honored that I was chosen to participate.

Where do you see yourself in five years?: In five years, I see myself having completed my Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering at Iowa, and hopefully living somewhere a little farther south. I’ll be pursuing my Ph.D in chemical sciences/engineering, studying and doing research while also giving back in any ways I can to the community.  I plan to help to encourage more minorities to pursue their dreams like I’ve done and am doing.

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