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Elizabeth O'Donnell

Personalized pathways at CMU

Students blaze trails to success by seizing unique opportunities

Contact: Ari Harris


For Elizabeth O'Donnell, two worlds — art and science — are better than one. But as a high school student, she felt obligated to choose between the two.

"There's an expectation that you'll fit into one group or another or that you have to be just one sort of person," she said.

When she came to Central Michigan University, she seized the chance to choose both of her passions.

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Elizabeth O'Donnell blends art and science.

Thanks to faculty support and her involvement with registered student organizations Wordhammer and Poets Collective, O'Donnell was empowered to pursue both art and science in her future career. Now the secondary education student writes poetry that analyzes and explains scientific topics. 

"Coming to CMU allowed me to pursue the things that made me the happiest even if they didn't seem to go together," she said. 

Stories like O'Donnell's abound at Central. 

From international internships to empowering conferences to supportive faculty, CMU provides resources for students to personalize their paths to success. 

Here are a few more examples of self-driven student journeys at CMU: 

IMPACTing student development

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Before integrative public relations major Sydney Reed came to CMU, she was nervous to start school. She was uncertain about which classes to take and how she could meet new people. Participating in CMU's IMPACT program — a two-day orientation event for multicultural students — made her feel welcome and at home on campus.

"As a first-year participant in the program, I remember seeing student leaders walk out on the stage during the welcoming remarks and thinking, 'that could be me,'" she said.

Now Reed works alongside other leaders to organize IMPACT and ensure incoming students can find their place at CMU, just as she did. 

Be the leader you want to see

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When Julio Velasco, a first-generation college student, came to CMU, he saw a need for more men of color in leadership roles. He wanted to see successful students who looked like him. 

Thanks to the support of mentors at the Student Success Center in the Towers residence halls and the Multicultural Academic Student Services office, Velasco became the leader he wanted to see at CMU. 

He got involved with the GameChangers conference — a daylong event that empowers young men of color to be leaders and mentors in their communities — and is leaving his mark on the CMU community.

From gowns to riches

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Have an idea for a business? At CMU, you can work to bring it to life. 

Fashion merchandising and design major Megan Cavellier wanted to create hospital gowns that would appeal to teenage patients, but she had no experience with business concepts. 

When she entered the New Venture Competition, a workshop series that aids students in developing a business, she collaborated with faculty and staff to create a business plan. 

Her company, ReCover, earned $10,000 at the competition and got the support it needed. 

Lions, turtles, biology — oh my!

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After seeing dolphin handlers in Florida when she was 10, Samantha Engster knew she wanted to be a marine biologist. But as the first-generation college student applied to colleges in Michigan, she wasn't sure how to achieve her dream. 

After a one-week class in the field at CMU's Biological Station on Beaver Island as a freshman, Engster told faculty member Bradley Swanson this was what she wanted to do. Swanson brought her on as a student researcher in his lab. 

Since then, Engster has been awarded thousands of dollars in grants and scholarships for her work. The senior biology student has traveled to Minnesota, Alaska and the Galapagos Islands to conduct research on turtles and sea lions. 

She isn't stopping there: She plans to pursue a graduate degree and continue on the path to becoming a marine biologist.

Written by Olivia Tubaro, CMU Communications intern


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