WWOOFing at Four O’Clock Farm

Honors student, Meghan Couture, recently returned from a World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) trip. Click here to read more about her experiences at Five O’Clock Farm in Tennessee this past July.

Lets Do This

Meghan Couture

Though I was always excited to start this blog for my senior project, I did not know I would be doing so while packing for Tennessee. Since the emergence of COVID-19 in mid-March, life plans have been changing with the wind, one of those plans being my senior project.

Originally, this blog was created to follow my month-long volunteering trip to Mudita School, a sustainable orphanage in Nyaungshwe, Myanmar. Instead, this blog will be following my two-week journey WWOOFing at Four O’Clock Farm, a small, family-run organic farm near Knoxville, Tennessee.

I had, and am still having, a very hard time accepting the fact that I was not able to travel to Myanmar this Summer. Not only was I grieving not being able to travel the world and be back in Southeast Asia, which I fell in love with last year, I was also grieving the loss of being able to take part in something “meaningful.” Helping children in a third-world country while also helping to preserve the earth for those children seemed like the most impactful thing I could do with my Summer. When I was no longer able to help at Mudita School and lined up a substitute position in Tennessee, I felt as though my project and my volunteering had lost significant impact. At my core, I believed that working closer to home with a more well-off population would slightly invalidate my work. I didn’t believe that I could create as much of an impact at home as I could abroad in Myanmar.

Though I am still grieving the loss of my trip to Myanmar and grappling with the amount of impact my work in Tennessee will have, I am slowly working to change my view. I would consider myself an environmental advocate, and, as such, I need to advocate for the environment globally, whether it be in Asia or America. In my head, I know that the location of my work does not determine its value, and I hope that, throughout my two weeks on Four O’Clock Farm, this will move from head knowledge to heart knowledge.

As I chronicle my time on the farm, I only hope that I can encourage the readers of this blog to do the same with the environmental degradation our world is facing today. You may acknowledge issues such as climate change, but you must make it heart knowledge; you must believe it to the point where you take action, however that may look for you. I hope this blog will help inspire readers to take action and provide some potential jumping off points.

Here’s to growing heart knowledge together.


To read more, check out Meghan’s blog!


Riley Pearl on Energy Management

As a student in the honors college, I am almost positive you would consider yourself good at a concept called ‘time management.’ After all, you are probably academically successful because of the way you manage your time. In the fall of 2018 I would have agreed with you that time management was the basis of my success in college thus far. In fact, I thought I was so good at time management that I decided to pursue more leadership within my sorority (I later became the President) and to become more involved with my academic student organizations as well. By the end of last fall, I was extremely busy- but as a college Junior I continued to think ahead towards career goals and pursued everything possible to build my resume.

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If I know anything, it’s that being a student who balances everything perfectly is not realistic and simply cramming everything possible into a day’s time is not sustainable. Over the last year of my life, I’ve learned that balance goes beyond just the concept of time. The real concept college students should be taught from the beginning isn’t time management at all. We should all be familiar with something I’ve learned to identify as energy management. In order to best understand energy management and how to apply it to your life as a student, I’ll have to rewind and explain why it became so important to me in the first place. If you’re in for a read, I promise you’ll learn something by the end.


In January of 2019, my world flipped upside down when I was diagnosed with cancer. I would no longer be able to balance anything in my life. Being a patient became my number one priority- and spoiler alert – it wasn’t even a resume builder.


By March of 2019, after countless doctor’s appointments and two surgeries, we had a confirmed diagnosis of Advanced Stage Three Melanoma that had metastasized in my lymphatic system. And for those of you asking, what / where / who is the lymphatic system? You are not alone. Simply put, it’s the network of vessels through which lymph drains from the tissues into the blood. At 21 years old I could not have pointed out anywhere in my body that included lymph nodes, yet less than 60 days after learning the definition of them, I would have 26 removed over the course of two surgeries. I was told that pending scans, genetic testing, and healing from surgery: I was set for a year of immunotherapy treatment to attack a genetic mutation my cancer was lucky enough to boast called a BRAF mutation. If you google it, most online sources call it the smoking gun of Melanoma. Comforting right?


Beyond the denial and grief I felt, I was just downright confused. At a time in my life where I felt the most alive, the closest to the next step of success: Doctors told me I was dying. Yes, I agree with you, dying is a strong term. I do not use it lightly. But the difference here, and the difference with most cancers, is that you do not feel ill upon diagnosis. I will tell you, however, that I felt incredibly ill after surgery. When I was told after surgery number two that doctors felt they were successful, I matched their enthusiasm with anger. What does success mean to them if I have another year of treatment to pursue?


My family and I had a running joke that my diagnosis was inconvenient for me. I hadn’t placed treatment in my google calendar months prior, so I probably wouldn’t have time- we would say. But inconvenient still does sum up a lot of how I felt. My life had been driven by the term “busy” in college. As I said before, I thought I was excellent at time management. We spent days talking about how being a patient was now my number one priority. Being a patient came before being a student, it came before being a leader, and it came before being a friend to myself and others. I missed weeks of school last semester. Countless classes, assignments and responsibilities piled up while I prioritized being a patient. At the time, pouring myself into something that wasn’t a resume builder in some way was extremely foreign. It was exhausting to rewire myself some days even when I understand how important my life and my health were.


I was asked to quit school. I was asked if stepping down from all leadership roles would relinquish stress from me – or maybe I should even leave my job after four years of working there. Looking back, doing all of those things could have reduced my stress. Except we all know they weren’t the root of the cause. Giving up on those aspects of my identity felt like throwing away the years of work it took prior to get to that place. It felt like slowly handing pieces of myself away and receiving nothing in return to patch the hole. The truth is that I welcome the normalcy of studying for an exam or rushing to a meeting when I had the opportunity. So I did it. I spent 83 hours in the library in the weeks leading up to final exams. I was lucky to have a very real and open relationship with my professors at the time. Not a single assignment was taken off my syllabi – but the due dates were pushed back to the infamous “before the final exam.”  I poured myself into school because it was genuinely less painful then sitting at home and reflecting the new world around me. Before I knew it, finals were over and summer came along. I passed the semester.


Doctors told me that continuing with my daily life was okay if I balanced it all correctly. To my own definition, balance had previously been “what can I fit in between the hours of 8am-10pm?” My parents had already begun the conversation with me that maybe stepping away from school was the best idea next semester while I learned what treatment was like. Yet ever so stubborn, I took an internship with a company I had applied to months earlier and decided to move in with friends in downtown Ann Arbor. I knew that learning to be independent during treatment would allow me to return to school in the fall. My family held their breath and I began.


Within a month of beginning immunotherapy, I felt my body whip through a rollercoaster of symptoms. My muscles ached, my feet and ankles swelled to the size of my head, and nausea wrecked me whenever it pleased. While immunotherapy’s kindest feature was the gift of keeping my hair, it was a tough road. I felt the most sick even on the days they promise we were making “good progress.” I could probably spend the next 10 paragraphs simply listing side effects, days spent in the doctors or just general bad days to you. But I won’t, because the truth is, that’s not the part of the story that will bring you any benefit. I promise this story continues and ends with something you can use in your life without being sick first to learn about it.

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Treatment made me quickly realize that time management was no longer the demon I needed to fight in my everyday life. Instead, I came to a crossroads with something I had never lacked before: energy. While enduring treatment, we chose what I can best describe to you as a “traveling treatment.” I took the pills home with me. This meant more freedom, less time in the hospital (allegedly) and hopefully, the highest level of normalcy someone can have while the cells in their body are fighting against each other. While I am for no reason the person who can give you the scientific background of my treatment – I can give you the results of the human experiment I completed on myself. I promise you can use some of the results on yourself.


The most asked question I ever got was: what is it really like to be sick? I know everyone has heard of cancer, and most people have been exposed to someone battling cancer in some form during their lifetime- but most of you have not lived it. It is my sincerest hope that you never have to.


It’s a question I struggled with on my own terms because I did not look sick. My hair was intact, and my body showed no physical signs of fatigue. I was fighting a battle that without a conversation, was invisible. How does a person like me explain every detail of every day being affected, and give the precise emotions a sick person goes through with clarity to others.


In order to answer that question, I want to share with you one of the best tools that was given to me during treatment: the spoon theory.


Spoon theory explains the difference in being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or to consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to. The healthy have the luxury of a life without choices, a gift most people take for granted.


When you are healthy you expect to have a never-ending supply of “spoons”. But when you have to now plan your day as a sick person, you need to know exactly how many “spoons” you are starting with.


Most people start the day with unlimited amount of possibilities, and energy to do whatever they desire, especially young people. For the most part, they do not need to worry about the effects of their actions.


But what if a person’s unlimited energy (spoons) was in fact, limited? The spoon theory describes energy as physical spoons we all hold in our pockets. One spoon per every action you take every day is taken away to convey the loss of energy. Since most people who get sick feel a “loss” of a life they once knew, the loss of spoons throughout the day conveys this best. A healthy person who only has 12 spoons will run out quickly because they will use them carelessly. If I was in control of taking away your spoons throughout the day, then you all would know what it feels like to have a diagnosis being in control.


An excerpt from spoon theory reads


 “I have learned to live life with an extra spoon in my pocket, in reserve. You need to always be prepared—-Don’t worry. I see this as a blessing. I have been forced to think about everything I do. Do you know how many spoons people waste everyday? I don’t have room for wasted time, or wasted “spoons” and I chose to spend this time with you.”


You can read the spoon theory explanation in its entirety here:


I have used the spoon theory to explain my life to many people, I had the article favorited through the entirety of my treatment. It made me feel understood.

As a student: how and where are you using your spoons? Even healthy, and full of energy: every spoon counts.


I have spent a lot of time understanding and fixating on the topic of energy management. Not only because I truly used it the last year of my life, but because I knew I could use it healthy too. I listened to podcasts, and I read books written by people who went through much worse treatment than me. Yet, the spoon theory still carries with me every day. When a podcast suggested leaders should actually record the items that are draining for them and remove those activities – I did exactly that. But I wasn’t leading anything except my own body at the time. You can use this concept now, healthy.


If you write down your daily routine, beginning to end, I am sure we could agree you are busy. Even writing it down just once, I guarantee you forget something. But if you go through the list, and place a number between -2 and 2 next to that activity, you’ll be able to see just how draining your days really are. Place a -2, -1 for activities that drain you. 0 for things you don’t seem to notice have an affect, and a 1 or 2 for activities that rejuvenate your energy.


Add them up- Are you left with a positive or negative number at the end of the day? How are you currently managing the energy you have?


Now, you may have picked an item that’s simple like showering. You’ll look at me and say- Riley, I can’t remove showering from my routine just because it’s tiring! But the point isn’t cutting out the necessities in your day. Instead, is to be conscious of where we are spending our energy. More importantly, are we adding activities into our schedule that do fill us back up? As students, we are givers. We give our time, energy, and knowledge to the aspects of our lives that will help us pursue our goals and inch us closer to graduation.


Yet, college culture breeds unhealthy habits. What will help you to end your day with a positive number? If you constantly are ending in a negative, that leaves you running to catch up the next day and the next.


No one will never be perfect at this. Our lives change and rebalance all the time. But it the consciousness behind energy management that will save you from burning the candle at both ends.


I stopped treatment on September 27, 2019. It hasn’t been that long, but the medication has left my bloodstream. I now feel the energy that fueled me before returning, some days spiking to the point I really do joke about running marathons, and others- just enough to get me through. Energy management is still a huge portion of my life today, even without the medication that made it so vital to me. I may not practice yoga every day like my occupational therapist recommends (sorry) or eat all vegan like my mom wishes, but I have found those positives that rejuvenate me. I hope you find yours too.


If you stuck with me all the way through, thank you. I hope you can consider the days you have now and think beyond just managing the time it takes to attend class, clubs and beyond. I hope that you can stay healthier both physically and mentally by consciously planning your days around how much energy your commitments will take up. It’s not doing less – but it’s being able to lean into the understanding that setting boundaries around how far we push our energy will only bring us more of it. Being successful in college goes far beyond a competition of who is “busier.”

-Riley Pearl

Watch Riley speak at Leader Lab 2019 here! (Riley speaks at 1:08:00)

Jordan Sickrey

About Me

I’m a graduate of the Class of 2018 from Grand Valley State University, with Honors from the Niemeyer Honors College. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Writing, accompanied by an anthropology minor. This path was not an entirely straight path, as I began my journey as a biochemistry/anthropology double major with a minor in writing. I did quite poorly in a chemistry and calculus class, and I dropped my biochemistry major. My second year, I began a writing/anthropology double major. I then got a C in the human osteology class—bones, for the layperson—and that was the only thing keeping me in anthropology. With only three classes left for a minor, I began my third year with a writing major and an anthropology minor, finished my minor that fall semester, and focused on my major for the last three semesters. Throughout most of this, I worked at Goodwill, where I am currently still working. I began in the retail store as a cashier and was promoted to be a program assistant on one of the programs that help those reentering society after being in jail or prison. I did an internship at Dzanc Books, and I honed my editing skills, which was part of what got me my promotion. I do freelance editing on the side, as well as my own creative writing.

The Process

My novel process was a huge conglomeration of different things from Grand Valley. I had a character in mind since I was 14, but I never really had anything beyond that. Then, I joined the Renaissance Club, and there was a faction within the club called the Fae. It was then that I knew I was going to write a fantasy novel about faeries. So, I began developing my main character, Riona, as a faerie. This changed a lot of things about her, as I had spent four years picturing her as a human, but I used the Renaissance Club to develop her. It was the perfect setting.

Then, I was in Intro to Cultural Anthropology during my Fall 2014 semester. Our final project for this class was to create a culture. It was a group project, so I was unable to create my faerie culture during class, but I still had access to the class Blackboard over the Christmas break. I copied everything from the project that I could find and began developing my culture in December of 2014.

After that, it was slow-going. I knew I needed to worldbuild first. I knew I needed to know the setting and potential characters before I started figuring out a plot. A plot can always have the kinks worked out of it, and a good plot should draw from the world. I’ve run out of steam on past novel attempts because I didn’t have enough of the world fleshed out.

In the Winter 2016 semester, I took Intro to Creative Writing. One day, we watched a video about the Disney formula of three acts. Something about this video spoke to me, and I went home and began to write. I wrote a lot of little things during this semester. I began work on my novel, and I also started to write other things, such as the backstory for my antagonist. Sometime in this semester and the summer break, I wrote the first draft of my prologue and the first four chapters of my novel.

Things really began to heat up during the Fall 2016 semester. This is where I took Professor Haven’s Intermediate Fiction Workshop class. He allowed me to use actual chapters for his class. I first used my prologue, which I revised multiple times. The first draft from the Winter 2016 semester was only around 800 words. Short stories for Professor Haven had to be a minimum of 3,000 words. Professor Haven not only let me use my chapters, but he also taught in a way that made sense to me. He talked of chapters like stair steps. They all had their own arcs, but they came together to support the larger arc of the novel. I also ended up writing a new chapter in this class for my final portfolio: Chapter 5.

My Advanced Fiction Workshop did not give me the opportunity to write chapters for my novel, as the professor wanted short stories that were complete on their own. I ended up developing some of my minor characters, which definitely helped the overall building of my novel.

From here, things slowed down quite a bit. I’m not quite sure why, but I didn’t really do much on my novel again until the Winter 2018 semester. This was where things picked up speed, because Dr. Gilles had approved an extensive undertaking as my Honors Senior Project.

The Honors Senior Project

            It began when I submitted my proposal in October of 2017. I proposed that I would write five new chapters of my novel (Chapters 6-10), and then I would also revise everything that I had written. This meant a revision of eleven total chapters. Dr. Gilles, before his promotion to the Honors College, was my advisor in the Writing Department. He had been hearing about my novel for two years, and he was more than pleased by my decision to continue working on it for my Senior Project.

Thus began the process of actually doing this much work. I was able to repeat Advanced Fiction Workshop for credit. Professor Haven was teaching it during the Winter 2018 semester, and he was my Senior Project Advisor. I planned to write three chapters for Advanced Fiction Workshop’s three required stories, and then I would revise them further to turn in for the Senior Project. The key here is using your classes to your advantage. By taking this class, especially with my project advisor, it gave me strict deadlines for three of my five new chapters. It also made sure that I was constantly getting feedback from my project advisor.

On top of this, my only other class was my internship. The internship seminar class does not give a lot of work outside the class, and my internship was remote. It never felt like work, and I often submitted things ahead of my deadlines. This made it very easy for me to focus on my Honors Senior Project.

The hardest part of the Senior Project came in April 2018. It took me about a week of writing and revising the first four chapters, because I hadn’t looked at them since 2016 when I began to write them. I had multiple days of getting up at 3am and writing all day. I didn’t end up turning in the project until the day it was due, and I finished maybe half an hour before I turned it in.

It was incredibly rewarding, though, as I ended up with 37,133 words. I ended up with a very solid first eleven chapters. I ended up accomplishing so much that I really didn’t know if I ever would. This was my last semester at Grand Valley, and it felt like an amazing last hoorah. I was able to go out with a bang. In four months, I was able to write five chapters and edit eleven. It’s a feat that most people would not undertake unless under duress. But I chose this. Writing is my passion, my life, and I have always felt a drive to write. Sometimes, however, it’s hard.

After Graduation

I graduated from Grand Valley April 28, 2018. I began working a full-time job as a cashier at Goodwill on April 30, 2018. Everyone who has worked retail can attest to how exhausting it can be. And this hampered my creative process. My hours were never consistent; I spent my days off trying to recover. When we were understaffed, I stressed about what I would go into the next day. Working took over my life, and I would go home and just scroll mindlessly through social media.

I did this for nine months. Until the Polar Vortex of January 2019. I was stuck in my apartment with some well-timed PTO, and I used this to start writing again, because what else was I to do when I was stuck in my apartment.

I ended up writing almost two chapters in two days. A month later, I transferred from retail to workforce development, and I began to work first shift in an office. It was so much more laid back, and I felt the motivation to write return to me.

After this, I was averaging about a chapter a month. I got stuck for about a month and a half on one chapter in particular, unsure how to get my characters out of the literal pit that they had been in for about ten chapters at that point. I tweeted about my frustrations, and Professor Haven happened to reply with some advice. The next day, I ranted to my friend over text message, and mid-rant, Professor Haven’s advice made complete sense. I knew how to get them out of the pit. I knew exactly what to do. I finished the chapter, and I enlisted in Camp Nanowrimo. It was about then that I realized I could very well finish my novel by the end of the year.

Camp Nanowrimo

For those of you who don’t know, Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month. This is held in November of every year. They do a camp version in July. Normally, the goal is to write 50,000 words in the span of a month. However, they adjust it, and you can do “x amount of hours”, change the word count goal, or “x amount of pages”. My writing style is to get the skeleton of the chapter down first. I just need something to go on, and when I go back to edit, I add in all the detail work. My goal was 30 pages for the month. This would average out to be about 6 chapters with the length of my first drafts.

What I didn’t realize was that I gained a lot of momentum by getting my characters out of the pit. I ended up writing a total of 19,006 words. I wrote eleven chapters. I finished the novel. Or, rather, the first draft of the novel. There’s going to be a long road of editing ahead. I wrote 65 pages, doing more than double my initial goal. And, when I finished at about 10:30pm on July 24th, 2019, I cried.


I’ve already sketched out my prologue and outline for Book 2 of my series. I know that this story will take a trilogy to tell. I have begun reading through my manuscript of Book 1, and I am making revision notes for myself.

This post is to not only share my success, but to encourage people to utilize their Honors Senior Project. Do something that you’re passionate about. Make those bonds with your professors and find someone who cares about your success. This has been my dream since I was six years old, and if it hadn’t been for the encouragement from Dr. Gilles and Professor Haven, I would not have a completed first draft. Grand Valley was absolutely vital to my development as a writer.

For those of you who enjoy research, reach out to the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship. Ask them how to go about doing research. We have resources. For those of you who are more creative, work on your projects. Go to professors for feedback. Try to make your schedule work for you. We all have to get at least 120 credits to graduate. We all have to take the Honors Senior Project. So use it to help further your personal goals. College is a place to learn and grow. College is a place to develop yourself. Use the resources available. Even creative-minded people can do research. I was able to do a research project with a friend and Professor Haven for Student Scholars Day. We researched how authors use worldbuilding to develop their novels. This, in turn, made my friend and I better writers, because we understand more about worldbuilding than we did before. Grand Valley has so many resources and connections to use. Do something you’re passionate about. Do something that you are invested in. Don’t pick something that you think will get you a good grade. Because if you put the effort in, your grade will reflect your passion for the topic. The Honors Senior Project should be a stepping stone for everyone; it is an incredible tool that should be utilized. When else in our undergraduate careers are we able to spend an entire semester working on something that we truly care about? When else are we able to do something that will make an impact on us for the rest of our lives?

Looking back, I’ve been developing my novel in some way, shape, or form since I started at Grand Valley. I owe everything to Grand Valley, to Professor Erica Begun, to Professor Michelle Calkins, to Professor Jason Lenz, to Professor Chris Haven, and to Dr. Roger Gilles. I owe everything to the Renaissance Club and the Writing Department and the Honors College. To Grand Valley, thank you for all the opportunities to develop my dreams.

Top 5 Tips For Registration Season

1. Visit Your Advisors. Spend some time getting a lay of the land and talk to your major and minor advisors as well as your Honors advisor.  Each advising center has dedicated time for appointments each week to help you figure out what your MyPath is trying to tell you.  Leave it to the experts to help you figure it out so that you aren’t in full freak-out mode on the day of registration!  Click here to find your academic advisor for your major.

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2. Set Some Priorities. When you think about next year, what do you want for yourself?  Are you going to have a job, an internship, or a leadership role in your student organization?  Are your classes going to get more challenging?  What do you want your social life to look like?  How about taking care of your wellness?  These are all questions that you should be sitting with as you begin to set the groundwork for a successful year.  We all know what it’s like to say that we are prioritizing something, like exercise.  But what is it like to actually take all the steps to make it happen?


3. Make a plan. Before you register, you want to have a plan.  A map to show you what next year could look like in an ideal world.  Take into account the time and places of your class, allowing enough space to travel from Downtown to Allendale.  Make sure to double check your plan so that it accounts for all the advice your advisors gave you as it checks off classes in your MyPath.


4. Find some B & C choices (as backup). Let’s face it, having backup options keeps us moving and sane.  There is nothing worse than beginning the process or registering to find the sections of classes you want are all closed and you have no options.  Try not to get yourself in that space, banging your head against the wall on the verge of a meltdown.  Instead, have some additional choices in your back pocket.  Remember, they are backup choices that can always be swapped out later for something that is a better fit.  Try not to freak out and plan a few steps ahead instead.


5. Stick to it & register. Why would you give your spot to someone else and register another day?  You wouldn’t!  The best thing you can do is actually register on your assigned registration day, and make changes when you need to.  In order to figure out your registration date, match your MyPath credits with a specific date on the registration calendar.


5 Reasons Why You Should Participate in Undergraduate Research

When I first heard the term “undergraduate research”, I envisioned students wearing lab coats pipetting endlessly into hundreds of tubes. I quickly discovered that my expectations were much different from reality. I never envisioned that I would have the opportunity to design and execute somethings that began as a simple interest and idea. I also did not imagine that research would become a pivotal piece of my undergraduate education (as it can for you, too!). Here, I compiled my top 5 reasons (in no particular order) as to why you should participate in research as an undergrad.

  1. Opportunity to be creative. Research gives you the opportunity to be creative and inquisitive. The research world is your oyster and can be done in any (and I mean any) field. Interested in math? Philosophy? Ecology? Chemistry? There is opportunity for you in ANY field.
  1. Enhance your communication skills. One of the most fun parts of research (IMHO) is dissemination. Whether it be in writing, a poster or oral presentation, you have the opportunity to share your work and experience with other interested individuals. You learn to communicate in different ways with people from diverse backgrounds. Not only do you have the chance to share your work, you also learn from the experience of others.
  1. Connections and Networking. Professional connections are inevitable when partaking in research. You will meet people in your prospective career, but you will also build connections with other professionals. Not only have I made professional connections, I have also made lifelong friendships and relationships throughout my research experience.
  1. Build resilience. Roadblocks in research are also inevitable. And it is OKAY! What matters? How you continue to move forward. The process will frustrate you, but it will also support your growth as a student and intellectual as well as challenge your ways of thinking. Work through the disappointments and you will evolve in ways you never imagined.
  1. Demonstrate dedication. Participating in research is a huge commitment that should not be taken lightly. It takes a large amount of dedication to endure the responsibility of incorporating research into your life and a sense of satisfaction when you are done.



Ashleigh Harrah is a senior in the honors college studying Cell and Molecular Biology and Biomedical Sciences. She was the recipient of the Modified Student Summer Scholar Award at Grand Valley State University for a project investigating microRNA-34b/c as blood based biomarkers for Parkinson’s Disease. In her free time, Ashleigh loves to read, go to hot yoga, and play with her puppy.

Student Post: The Struggle of Choosing a Major When You’re Indecisive and Interested in Everything

I read an article once that claimed that the average college student changes their major four times before graduating. I may be alone in this opinion, but I think that person was miscalculating. How do you start a fresh four years of life where everyone is telling you that “you can be whatever you want,” without wanting to give everything a try? I feel like I’ve had enough majors for everyone at Grand Valley!

I’ve never been one to answer a question with, “I don’t know.” Rather, I was quite the opposite. So, I waltzed into my freshman year with a very strong-headed idea that I was certain of what I was going to major in and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.


Good one, self.

After taking my first semester of classes I realized the world of opportunity in front of me and I wanted to take it all in. I eventually got ahold of the course catalog and drove myself crazy with uncertainty. All the options made my head spin. I was a social work major, turned psych student, turned bio buff, turned pre-med pupil, turned neuroscience nerd (and don’t even get me started on minors). Changing majors is quite literally as easy as the push of a button.

All of the back and forth created a looming feeling of anxiety any time someone brought up the topic of education and career goals. They seem to be the only things people are interested in. It’s almost as if they’re the default conversation starter when meeting new people, and I know that I am just as guilty of asking everyone’s least favorite questions.

“What are you studying?” “What do you want to do with that?”

It’s terrifying!

And I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubbles, but we can’t all be Meredith Grey (but wouldn’t that be the life).

Now, countless advising appointments and mental breakdowns later, I’m confident of two things. First, we have advisors and mentors for a reason. They want us to utilize their expertise and pick their brains to figure out what’s next. Second, we’re meant to be unsure in college. We just have to fight through the confusion in order for it all to be worth it. People rarely come to a decision about the rest of their lives on the first try.

So here’s the conclusion I’ve come to: I’m never actually going to know for sure. And that’s okay! Even with the stress that comes with all of this decision-making, I think that’s the beauty of the phase of life we’re in right now. We get to choose the path we’re on, and we can either run down that path or take it one step at a time.

Jordan Beckman

Jordan Beckman is a sophomore in the honors college studying Behavioral Neuroscience and Psychology. She is on leadership with Campus Ministry and spends her free time adventuring, petting dogs, and drinking coffee.

Student Post: Why You Should Volunteer

I came into Grand Valley as Undecided for my major.  Above all, there was one thing I did know: that I wanted to major in something science related.  I wish I could say that this helped narrow things down for me, but it barely did such.

Within my first year, I ended up switching my major from undecided to Biomedical Sciences, and then from BMS to Behavioral Neuroscience.  As many might know, these two degrees are not very closely related!  What was I doing? I had no clue, and the anxiety of not knowing what I wanted to do for a career began to set in.

Fast forward to the summer before my second year at Grand Valley.  After speaking with my mother about my worries of not knowing what I want to do, I received some wonderful (and yet so simple) advice from her; to try to volunteer at various places that I could see myself working at in the future.  I took her advice and ran with it, and soon found myself at the volunteer orientation at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids.  I had been offered a position in the Pediatrics Unit, and was so excited to be working with children in rehab!

The experience I obtained from volunteering at a hospital was life changing.  I realized that not only was it a great feeling to help motivate children during their daily rehab, but I also realized that I would totally love to care for them as a career.  Through volunteering, I was able to work closely with therapists, nurses, floor managers, you name it!

I experienced so many different tasks, ranging from coordinating activities to helping entertain the siblings while the families visited patients, caring for patients as they ate dinner or winded down for the night, and helping guide them in therapy.  I ended up changing my major to nursing just a couple weeks into volunteering at the hospital.

My advice to you is to put yourself out there and volunteer somewhere during your college career.  If I had not volunteered at MFB, I may have never discovered that my true calling was to practice medicine in pediatrics.

Not only that, but I also gained experience in many different departments in the hospital that will benefit me not only for competitive positions but also for my own reference.  Not to mention, I met amazing people through volunteering (patients, therapists, nurses, and other fellow volunteers!).  I am now involved in Rotaract at GVSU and am actively involved in volunteering in other areas such as the Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP).

Each time I volunteer, I learn more about myself and what types of activities I enjoy/don’t enjoy; you will certainly benefit from it!

Megan Latreille is a sophomore in the Honors College.  When she has free time, she loves to go for walks in new areas and practice yoga.  She love shoes, plants, cats, goats, and ice cream.  After switching her major two times and struggling to determine what career path is right for me, she has finally landed on nursing.  

Student Post: Eight Things I Learned My Freshman Year

College is a new experience so there’s a lot to learn, I am sharing my biggest tips and tricks to ensure success in your freshman year. 


Stay organized. There is no one around telling you when to clean or make food or remind you to do your homework. These are things you have to remember to do on your own now.


Get involved. College is only 4 years (more or less), so take advantage of the opportunities available on this campus. Not only are clubs great resume boosters, but they allow you to meet people who have similar passions and could become great friends.

Monsters inc

Say yes to new things. College is full of new things so say yes to trying them and meeting new people. You never know what the experience may lead to.


But also know when to say no. While you want to get the most out of your college experience, you are here for school. If you have a big exam on Monday, then studying should be a priority.


The library is your friend. Your room is not always the most efficient place to get work done. In private you can say “just one episode” that will turn into 5, but the library almost makes you feel guilty if you don’t study while you are there.


Professors are people too. I feel like sometimes we forget this. They are people who care about your education and want to see you succeed. Professors come to GVSU because they care about students so ask them for help when you need it.


Don’t be afraid to change your major. You are here to find what you love and want to do for the rest of your life, if that isn’t what you originally thought it was then find an advisor and switch.


Stress relief is important. College is hard so find some way to relieve your stress daily, weekly, or whenever you need to. You can’t just let it all build up inside.






Rachael Morin is a freshman in at Grand Valley this year. Her major is Hospitality and Tourism Management with a business minor. She is a member of Sigma Sigma Sigma Sorority and the Thirst Project club. In her free time she enjoys ice cream, crime shows, and shopping.

Student Post: A Fulbright Year in Germany

I was studying in the Mary Idema Pew library just three weeks away from graduating, when I received an e-mail from the Institute of International Education with the subject line “Fulbright U.S. Student Program Application Notification;” an e-mail I had awaited for more than six months.

Reading the first sentence and its congratulations, I gasped loudly and threw a hand over my mouth in disbelief. Those studying around me probably wondered, and rightfully so, what kind of thing could possibly elicit so much joy in the university library with the exam period looming. Let me tell you what kind of thing that is…

A Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Germany entails one’s placement at a German school to teach part time English language, American history, culture and politics, and the general fostering of cross-cultural dialogue both in the school and community. The overarching program goal is to promote mutual understanding between countries. I was also granted a spot in the Fulbright ETA subgroup called the Diversity Program, in which one’s school placement is quite diverse with many students having migrant or refugee backgrounds.

I teach in Fürth, Bavaria at Hardenberg-Gynamsium, an institution for grades 5-12, as well as at the diverse Grundschule Frauenstraße, a school for grades K-4. My colleagues are wonderful and my students so eager and curious. For example, if I had 1€ (Euro) for every time I’ve been asked how I feel about Donald Trump, gun laws, and football, cheerleaders, or prom, I would be rich! Controversial questions, the exchange of perspectives, and breaking down stereotypes are all an exciting part of the job.

There is no denying the challenge of being plopped in a new city, in a foreign country, to live in a new language/culture, with a new job, new apartment, new roommate, and new friends. One important lesson that teaches you, if you let it, is how to really establish yourself in a new place, make connections, and build a new life.

In my quest to do just that, I’ve enrolled in the university here (Friedrich-Alexander-Universität) where I study Arabic and Swahili. I’ve also joined an organization (Ehrenamtlisch Flüchtlingsbetreuung in Erlangen) that offers tutoring to refugee students who have been resettled in Germany; I teach English to two boys from Damascus, Syria while they act as Arabic tutors for me. I also play basketball for a club team in Nürnberg and coach a team of fifth and sixth grade girls through a nationwide effort called Integration Durch Sport that seeks to help migrant and refugee students better integrate into German schools. Practice is always a hilarious mix of charades and translations given the girls’ variety of native languages.


Sarah Cullip graduated in 2017 with a degree in English & German Secondary Education after her tenure as a member of the Cross Country, Track & Field, and Women’s Basketball teams, a representative on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, a German Club member, and a Cook Leadership Academy Fellow. Sarah then received a Fulbright grant to Germany, where she currently works as an English Teaching Assistant, studies Arabic and Swahili, tutors refugees, and plays and coaches basketball. Sarah will spend the summer interning at a school in Kenya with hopes to teach another year in Germany before pursuing a Master’s degree in International Comparative Education. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, travelling and reading.

Meijer Lecture Series: CyberLife

The Meijer Lecture Series provides a platform for Honors students to interact with speakers that are experts in their field. This year is no different, with two speakers lecturing about cyber security.

Dr. Jared DeMott holds a PhD from Michigan State University and is the founder of VDA Labs. VDA Labs is an information security firm that helps organizations with their penetration testing, advanced security training and code security services.

DeMott was previously a vulnerability analyst with the NSA and was a finalist in Microsoft’s BlueHat prize contest. DeMott is currently a professor at Dakota State University and spends much of his time lecturing at institutions around the United States.

Barb Hiemstra holds a BA degree in Telecommunications from Michigan State University and has additional certificates within the field. Hiemstra currently works as a Privacy Engineer for Steelcase, a position that allows her to work with the Security, Legal, Software, and Product Development teams to reduce risk and increase operational privacy.

Hiemstra was formerly a Information Security-Governance Manager at Perrigo, the Information Security Director and the Deputy Director for IT at Kent County. Hiemstra is also the co-founder and a co-chair for the Region 6 DHS’s WEst Michigan Cyber Security Consortium (WMCSC), served on the IGNITE Steering Committee for Region 6 Law Enforcement, is a member of the State of Michigan CISO’s Kitchen Cabinet Advisors, and serves on the Advisory Board of the COllege of Information Technology at Baker College.

The Meijer Lecture will occur on Tuesday, March 20 at 5 pm and will be held downtown in the Siedman College of Business Forum. For additional information, please click here.