In August 2010, when I enrolled at Ivy Tech Community College, my academic goal was to take as many prerequisite classes as possible before transferring to Purdue University to receive an associate degree as a veterinary technician.
Having been home-schooled from kindergarten through 12th grade, I never gave much consideration to attending college, mainly because I found the aspect of transitioning from a classroom the size of my kitchen table to a college campus that consisted of thousands of students overwhelming.
Once the semester began, that fear quickly vanished, and I soon realized that I enjoyed the college atmosphere and being surrounded with students my own age.
I’ve always known I wanted my career in life to be focused on animals and figured an associate degree was the fastest and easiest way to obtain that goal. It wasn’t until after I completed Thomas Sobat’s biology class in December 2012, however, that my ambitions began to change. In his class, Sobat not only taught us the anatomy and physiology of living organisms but also the ecology associated with them.
This topic immediately sparked an interest in me. I enjoyed learning about the various correlations that existed between organisms and their environment. Throughout the semester, Sobat assigned each student the task of keeping a journal with topics of our own personal preferences, so long as the subject pertained to science. I quickly found that most of my entries were focused on the coexistence of species that participated in packs and how that particular aspect contributed to their longevity.
Until taking this class, my writing skills were mediocre; however, as the semester progressed, I found that with each additional subject I researched and the more journal entries I wrote, the stronger my writing became. It was when I turned in my final set of journal entries that he approached me with the proposition of becoming his research assistant.
Since that time, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the biological research we’ve been conducting. Whether it’s visiting wildlife refuges or working in the lab, I’m excited every day about the new challenges that await.
As a result of working with Sobat and becoming Ivy Tech’s first research assistant, I recently had the opportunity of attending the Lewis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation research conference in West Lafayette, where I represented Ivy Tech as a student judge. I felt privileged to have been in Sobat’s class and honored that he chose me as his assistant. The experience and insight I’ve gained throughout our short time doing research together has led me to reconsider my academic goals.
With the encouragement I’ve received from family and friends and as a result of working with Sobat and experiencing firsthand the inspiration and joy that people can possess by working in a field that truly excites them, I’ve decided not only to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology, but I’m also considering obtaining a master’s and possibly a Ph.D., as well.
Had it not been for Sobat recognizing my potential as a biology major, I feel certain I’d still be satisfied with an associate degree. The most important thing I’ve learned since becoming his research assistant is that if you’re persistent and passionate about something, anything’s possible.
Ashlee Butler is a sophomore biology major at Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus/Franklin.