“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.”
These words from Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You Will Go are echoed each spring in excitement to express the possibilities which lay ahead for NC State graduates. For many, this means venturing on into graduate school, beginning a professional career, travel, and even embracing the great unknown. No matter the path these students choose or how far they roam, they will always be able to call NC State home.
Recently, Breanne Burgess, an alumna of the graduating class of 2017, sat down to reflect on her time at the university and the experiences and memories she carries with her throughout her journey. While at NC State, Burgess completed her bachelors of science in biochemistry, along with minors in biotechnology and microbiology. Reflecting on what brought her to campus, she notes coming from Johnston County, “NC State was close so I knew I would be around some familiar faces, but people come for everywhere, so I knew I would have a chance to meet a lot of different people as well.” Burgess also mentioned she was enamored by the possibility of all the opportunities inside and outside of the classroom she could pursue. “That’s why I chose to go into Exploratory Studies; it helped me figure out what I wanted to study.”
Burgess explained she entered NC State in the summer of 2013 as part of the Summer Start program, which allows students to jump-start their undergraduate experience by taking up to eight credit hours during the second summer session and to begin getting acquainted with campus life. “I met my best friends in Summer Start. I met a lot of friends in classes too, but the people whose baby showers and bachelorette parties I will go to– I met them in Summer Start.” One of the aspects of the program she appreciated the most was getting early one-on-one time with her academic advisor. “It was great, I got to figure things out and make a plan, and since it was summer I could meet with my advisor whenever I need to.” She enjoyed her experience in the program so much, the following year she signed up to be a Summer Start Mentor. This role allowed Burgess to assist with program activities and enabled her to be a resource and guide for new Wolfpack students beginning their first year on campus.
Burgess began her first year at NC State in the Exploratory Studies program. “I knew I was interested in biology and chemistry, and that I wanted to go into medicine,” and she explained Exploratory Studies helped to expose her to many different paths. Burgess notes she had narrowed down her interests to a few campus programs and attend the Major Exploration Series events for several colleges during her first semester. It was after a one-on-one meeting with a representative from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) during her first-semester in which she found her academic home in biochemistry. Exploratory Studies helped Burgess to realize “my interests didn’t have to be separate entities. I could do research. I found minors that helped me explore. There was just no limit to the things I could do here.” She credits support from her advisors, both in Exploratory Studies and in the biochemistry program, for helping her to find, explore, and diversify her academic interests.
During her sophomore year, Burgess joined the CALS Honors program, which inspires students to take ownership of their education, explore their passions, and pursue academic goals beyond the classroom. As part of the CALS Honors program, Burgess mentioned she was encouraged to participate in research outside of her major field of study. She decided to join a microbiology lab where her research focused on pathogenic bacterial studies in fermented food. This provided her with hands-on experience in a lab setting, writing research papers, and even showcasing her work in poster presentations.
Outside of the classroom and lab, Burgess stayed busy by volunteering and participating in a number of activities, including the University Scholars program as well as working in the Vice Chancellor and Dean of the Division of Academic and Student Affairs’ office. “It was awesome, I met a lot of great people, and I got to see the university from a different perspective.” While working in the DASA office Burgess appreciated getting to participate in planning committees, Packapalooza, and helping with different programs and offices throughout the division including Leadership and Civic Engagement (then CSLEPS). “I learned about a lot of different things going on too, like the LeaderShape Institute; I participated in that because I learned about it in the office.”
When it came time to think about her next steps, Burgess recalled a summer trip with TRIO, in which she and a group of students participated in a college tour to visit prospective graduate schools. “We got to see what graduate schools were like, and even meet with some of the schools’ administrators.” She recalled one visit in which a school representative spoke to the group about the recruitment process and what to prepare for. The trip helped Burgess to gain a better understanding of what she hoped to study in graduate school.
After graduation, Burgess began working as a research technician at Duke University in a pediatric oncology lab. There she spent nearly two years gaining practical research experience, further solidifying her interest in both medicine and research, and determining her next life steps. With guidance and support from her mentors, she chose to pursue a dual degree at Indiana University’s School of Medicine through their Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). This program will allow Burgess to continue to explore both her interest in medicine and research while earning her medical and doctoral degrees simultaneously. She officially began her program in early June and is excited for what the next few years hold.
While reminiscing on her time at NC State, Burgess exclaimed, “I love [NC State], even now when I return to campus I cry a little, because I remember all of the great experiences and just how much I loved my time there.” She explained, “I would say I had a really well balanced undergraduate experience.” Programs like Summer Start, Exploratory Studies, and TRIO helped her to find her home on campus and create lasting relationships and memorable experiences early on. Later in her undergraduate career, she explained she sought out experiences like research and even employment opportunities that helped her to build up her resume and develop skills, which she carries with her to this day. When asked what advice she has for current and future Wolfpack students she notes, “something I wish people would have told me more is not to stress about what other people are doing or that others may seem to have a more well-defined plan than you because I did at first.” She went on to say, “when I decided to let that go, I figured out that I just wanted to do my best at what I’m doing, and that if I focused on what I could control, that would lead me to other places.”
For Burgess, her undergraduate experience is done but a new class of Wolfpack students’ adventure has only begun. They will find their opportunities are vast, with many things to choose, but time is sure to move fast. We hope they make lots of friends and learn lots of things, now’s the time to embrace all life brings. When the time comes for them to look back, we hope their memories are fond, and that they remember they will always be part of our Pack.