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April 30, 2015
Jacob Petersen says the word catalyst – a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change – best describes his college career at Northwest Missouri State University.
It’s a fitting description for Petersen, who graduates from Northwest this spring with his bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Petersen says his education goals and career aspirations accelerated rapidly with the support and advisement he received from his instructors.
“A relatively small amount of time changed me in ways I would have never expected, and Northwest itself didn’t really change at all,” he said. “Something about the independence, the people and teachers worked in just the way to make me more than I was just four years ago.”
Northwest’s affordability and financial aid packages attracted Petersen, a native of Polk City, Iowa, to the University. He also saw Northwest’s promise of small class sizes as an advantage.
“I came from a high school with a graduating class of 92,” he said. “If I had been in classes with hundreds of students from the very first class, I don’t think I would have gotten very far.”
Petersen arrived at Northwest as a chemistry major but says he didn’t have a clear idea of how he might use that knowledge. By the end of his first year at Northwest, however, he realized his deep passion for the field and began to consider continuing his education beyond the Northwest campus.
But like a lot of college students, Petersen didn’t develop personally or academically without facing some challenges along the way. As a freshman, he was shy and kept to himself. Petersen also had grown accustomed to succeeding academically in high school with little effort, and his grade-point average fell at Northwest before he realized he needed to put more effort into his studies.
“At the end of my freshman year, my GPA hit me like a truck,” he said. “It really shut me down. But over the years, I’ve learned how to handle the problems that are thrown at me. … I learned how to speak up for myself, to question things around me and to not be ashamed if I don’t know something.”
Petersen eventually became a teaching assistant in Northwest’s chemistry labs and realized his interest in teaching. He embraced the lessons passed on to him by mentors like Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Michael Hull and Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr. Rick Toomey. More recently, he assisted Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr. Michael Bellamy with his research of water treatment and purification.
Petersen also deepened his interests and developed friendships through involvement in organizations like the Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society, serving on its executive board, and the chemistry honor society, Gamma Sigma Epsilon, for which he served as vice president this year.
“Jacob was an ideal student, coming to Northwest with focus and determination, set on studying chemistry,” Hull said. “Jacob was also teachable and receptive to advice. By being both motivated and malleable, he was able to achieve maximum success at Northwest. He reflected an ideal chemistry Bearcat: He worked hard in his classes, served as an officer in the Gamma Sigma Epsilon chemistry honor society, and was actively involved in Chem Club. His hard work and sacrifices have paid off as he heads on to the next stage of his success in graduate school.”
Experiences outside of his coursework helped Petersen develop into a more well-rounded person and enhanced his drive to learn.
“Northwest gave me a whole lot of emotional maturity that I didn’t have coming in, and it gave me my voice,” he said. “I gained a great education, and a step into the rest of my life. It gave me lifelong friends. Most importantly though, it gave me confidence that I could do what I wanted to do.”
Now, Petersen’s experiences at Northwest are leading him to the University of Notre Dame, where he will begin his post-graduate education next fall and plans to pursue his Ph.D. in physical chemistry. Ultimately, Petersen hopes to teach and conduct research at the university level.
“I don’t want to be done learning,” Petersen said. “I want to learn the obscure things, and the things that haven’t been learned yet.”
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468