Elmhurst in Depth

The Life of the Mind

At the heart of the Elmhurst Experience is a commitment to academic freedom, rigorous debate and creative inquiry. In these interviews, students and recent alumni talk about how that plays out in research, coursework, study-abroad experiences and more. 

"I learned to keep on going when things don’t work out."

Patrick Brambert ’13
Bloomingdale, Illinois
Biology

It’s one thing to do well in classes and learn what the teachers have to tell you. It’s another thing entirely to have a professor say, “Here’s something that nobody knows the answer to. Go find the answer.” That’s a key component of the academic experience at Elmhurst.

During my sophomore year I started working on a research project with Professor Stacey Raimondi in the biology department. Our project was to examine pathways in cells that get disrupted by cancer, with the goal of filling in some gaps in scientific knowledge. Dr. Raimondi gave us an idea of what we should be looking for and instructed us to tell her what happened. It was both exciting and daunting.

Doing high-level research at Elmhurst taught me that things are often less simple and straightforward than they seem. I learned to keep on going when things don’t work out—and not to get discouraged. The experience changed the way I approach questions I don’t know the answer to. And it definitely prepared me for graduate school and dentistry.

 

"To me, intellectual excellence is about lifelong learning."

Jaclyn Pearson ’15
Freeport, Illinois
Elementary Education

To me, intellectual excellence is about lifelong learning. It’s about taking your education beyond the classroom to get involved and share your passions with others. And at Elmhurst I’ve found a lot of opportunities to do just that.

As a Golden Apple Scholar, for example, I spend my summers working in high-need schools—tutoring, teaching lessons, giving assessments and learning about classroom management. As an education major, I spend a lot of time in educational settings during the academic year, representing Elmhurst and showing our supervising teachers how well prepared we are.

I’m also a Whitener Scholar, which means that I’m expected to commit myself to lifelong learning and sharing my knowledge with colleagues and with high-need communities. And during January Term I’ll be in Great Britain, working alongside British teachers in the classroom. I’m really excited to share what I’ve learned globally and discover new ways of teaching.

 

"We're doing something for the greater good."

Rabia Hameed ’15
Glen Ellyn, Illinois
Biology

I see Elmhurst as a very academically driven college. It is a place where everyone strives to do their best. At the same time, everyone also works together to help each other out. That healthy competition makes you want to do better. You hear people talking about their cool experiences—they’re shadowing a doctor or doing research at Loyola—and you think maybe you
should start doing more.

Professor Stacey Raimondi invited me to work with her on breast cancer research over the summer. She found a novel pathway in cancer, and now her research is based on trying to show how that pathway is important. So we’re studying cancer cell cultures, trying to find differences in the cells and figure out what those differences mean.

Biology majors at Elmhurst have the opportunity to do more than students at big universities do. We write grant proposals and research papers, and we’re required to do research. Not only that, we’re doing something for the greater good. For example, a lot of people are affected by cancer every day, and we’re working to fight it.

 

"I learned how to be the best academic learner I could be."

Margaret Zieke ’13
Caledonia, Minnesota
History

I grew up in a small rural town where the majority of students don’t go on to college, so I wasn’t really prepared for the rigor of college. At Elmhurst, I learned how to be the best academic learner I could be, and I know that will serve me well in the years to come.

One of the best experiences of my time at Elmhurst was studying abroad. I spent a term in Finland, where I explored countries and periods of history that I hadn’t been exposed to before. Most of the history classes I had taken were focused on Western Europe; on that trip, I discovered the history of Finland and Russia. That experience dramatically increased my interest in Eastern Europe and really helped me grow as a student.

Based on that interest, I submitted a paper on Russian encroachment in the Far East to a   national conference on undergraduate research. In April 2013 I was lucky enough to present my research to the cream of the academic undergraduate crop. Most of the other students there were from larger universities, but the education and skills I developed at Elmhurst allowed me to present my research alongside these heavy hitters.

 

"I discovered that research is what I want to do."

Toan Trinh ’13
Glendale Heights, Illinois
Chemistry


As a chemistry major at Elmhurst, I was able to interact with my professors every day. Through their guidance, I was able to do some very exciting research, and I discovered that research is what I want to do.

My research project explored a big question: how to capture carbon dioxide in the air. In recent years, carbon dioxide has increased significantly, causing a serious environmental issue. It’s hard to do anything with the carbon dioxide in its air form, but if you could turn it into a solid you could transport it and reuse it for other purposes.

So the goal of my research was to synthesize a solid salt that could capture carbon dioxide. In the end I was not successful, but I learned a lot from the different methods I tried. In fact, that’s the point: You’re not going to get results all the time, but you need to keep trying to find ways to achieve your goals. You have to learn about the different approaches other people have taken and then tweak them and make it your own.

 

"Part of intellectual excellence is figuring out what you believe and how to act on it."

Colin Ashwood ’13
Cedar Falls, Iowa
Political Science/Religion & Service

I think of intellectual excellence as challenging the status quo. It’s not just about consuming as much knowledge as possible; it’s also about asking meaningful questions. At Elmhurst, my professors expected us to consider questions like, Why does what we’re learning matter? Do you agree with it? Is there information that conflicts with it? They also expected us to do the research to find out if our facts were correct and whether our opinions made sense.

Part of intellectual excellence is figuring out what you believe and how to act on it. At Elmhurst I was always active in service projects like Partners for Peace and serving at soup kitchens. Those experiences, together with the classes I took, helped to establish my social justice beliefs and learn how to talk about them. I’ve always wanted to help people; now I can discuss philosophies of social justice.

Now that I’ve graduated, I’m working for Teach for America, teaching kindergarten in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Cleveland. I believe I can lay the groundwork for my students to get an education and get out of poverty. And I’m looking forward to making a difference.

"We learn how to figure things out and how to process information."

Emma Rieth ’14
Dayton, Ohio
Physics

Before I came to Elmhurst, my academic focus was on grades—I wanted to get an A in every class. Here, academics is more about gaining deeper knowledge. It’s about the process of learning, not about memorizing facts. We learn how to figure things out and how to process information, so you can learn anything. If you forget the facts over time, you can get them back through the process of critical thinking.

Over the past two summers I’ve done research with Professor Venkatesh Gopal on how rat whiskers move in response to airflow. He gives us a broad idea of what he wants us to achieve, then we fill in the details on our own.

For example, my lab partner and I were assigned to set up two cameras to take simultaneous videos of the whisker movements. We started with nothing but the cameras in their boxes, and we figured out where to mount them, how to create a circuit and how to make the whole thing work. I’d never done anything like that before, and it gave me real pride of ownership. By the time I graduate, I hope to help write a paper about the project.

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