I grew up in a working poor homesteading family where hard physical labor is valued over education. I was illiterate until the 5th grade and dropped out of high school. I worked in construction and pursued my dream of becoming a world champion bull rider. After several years of abuse to my body from my chosen careers I realized my future path was narrowing.
While healing from one of my various injuries I took up gardening. I needed to know more about plants, so I went to the local library and checked out a textbook called General Botany. This book inspired a turning point in my life. My future wife convinced me to go back to school. I acquired my GED and enrolled in the botany program at the University of Wyoming in 2002.
I was the first person in my family to enter higher education. “You’ve proved your point, time to come home and get back to ‘real’ work” is the sentiment I often heard. I thought college was too easy, until I flunked the first round of tests. Little did I know I was to use my time out of class studying. First generation students have to learn so many lessons that other students inherently know.
For the next two years I found little interest in the core curriculum designed by the university. My passion was to study plants and these courses seemed to hold little relevance. Finally I achieved enough prerequisites to take Plant Physiology taught by Dr. Stephen Herbert, who eventually hired me to work in his lab. Through many conversations, Dr. Herbert learned that I was a first generation student from a low-income family. My tenure in his lab was close to an end as I was ready to graduate. We discussed moving forward with graduate school, however, I did not have the means or know-how to precede. He recommended me to the McNair Scholars Program, where I met Susan Stoddard and Zacki Salmon.
The McNair program was crucial for teaching me how to successfully apply for post baccalaureate education. They provided the funds necessary for me to stay through the summer to do research. This was the first time that I could stay for the summer and not have to return to my seasonal construction job. Throughout the summer my fellow McNair Scholars and I were provided the required skills to apply to a PhD program. The financial support provided by the McNair program was essential and provided the initial means to pursue a PhD. When I earned my doctorate from Washington State University in 2012, I became the first person in my entire immediate and extended family to become a PhD.
I am currently a Staff Scientist at the Franceschi Microscopy and Imaging Center at WSU. In this position I guide students and faculty in advanced microscopy techniques, including experiment design and execution. For the past year I have served as an instructor for Special Topics in Electron Microscopy. This teaching opportunity has allowed me to mentor students from diverse backgrounds. I often use what I learned through the McNair
program to help these students pursue their professional careers.
I have been able to take advantage of many opportunities. I have collaborated with researchers from all over the world. I spent two summers in the Netherlands using the only MRI machine in the world that can measure sugar flow in plants. I have published nine original research papers and one book chapter, with several more currently in review. As my career progresses I am excited to continue on this ever widening path. The McNair Scholars Program didn’t just open doors for me; the program revealed doors that were invisible to me as a first generation student.