“Central transformed who I was as a person.”
– Kayleigh Rohr ’20
Hometown: Hastings, Minnesota
Majors: Biochemistry and Spanish
Campus Activities: Campus Ministries, Intervarsity Fellowship, Sustainability, Peer Tutor, Chemistry Lab Teaching Assistant, Admission Tour Guide, Honors Program and Student-Faculty Research, Study Abroad (Mérida)
Graduate School: University of Indiana School of Optometry, Bloomington, Indiana
Kayleigh Rohr ’20 graduated high school with a love of chemistry but unsure about much else — except she wanted to study somewhere she could also do research. She looked at large urban universities in two states but was immediately drawn to Central when she visited.
“I loved the small class sizes and how warm and welcoming everyone was — the professors, the students and Pella itself,” she says.
Sports were important to her as well — she’d played softball in high school and wanted to continue. But before she got the chance, she was sidelined by an injury.
“Truly, I haven’t missed it much,” she says. “My time was quickly consumed with activities I loved. I became very involved with campus ministries and InterVarsity fellowship as both a small-group and large-group leader. I went on five mission trips during my four years at Central and was involved with discipleship and events.” She also studied abroad and interned in a hospital in Mérida, Mexico, became involved in Central’s sustainability efforts and worked as an admission tour guide.
On the academic side, she ended up as a tutor and a teaching assistant for chemistry labs, double-majored in biochemistry and Spanish and did student-faculty research with Associate Professor of Chemistry Jay Wackerly over two summers — research that turned into an honors project for her. By the time Rohr graduated, she’d settled on a career in optometry and accepted an offer from her first-choice graduate program at the Indiana University in Bloomington.
It all sounds neatly planned, but it wasn’t.
If she has one piece of advice for prospective students, it’s this: “It is OK to not have everything figured out when you get to college.
“I arrived feeling like I didn’t know what to do and I thought that was bad,” she says.
“Because I hadn’t settled on a career, I chose a major I thought I would enjoy rather than one that I thought led to a specific job,” Rohr says. “In the process, I discovered I liked things I never knew I’d like. Central gave me the flexibility to discover as I went along. I still loved chemistry, but I also discovered I love anatomy and physiology. That led me to become a biochem major and to think about a career in health care.
“The whole chem department is really great,” she adds. “Each professor has their own personality that contributed to how I learned. Associate Professor of Chemistry Ashley Garr and Professor of Chemistry Cathy Haustein were really supportive, especially being women in chemistry. Dr. Dunne and Dr. Shriver were always willing to help me with whatever I brought to them. I had Associate Professor of Chemistry Jay Wackerly for organic chemistry and I loved it, which isn’t the usual reaction to O-chem. But he has a great teaching style, almost like a narrative, where all the little parts come together and make sense. It was my favorite class. Dr. Wackerly was also key to my grad school applications.
“Being in a strong relationship with professors is so advantageous for the future. They have all kinds of connections and they know you well, so they can speak to your character, about who you are as a person, rather than just your grade. That was so helpful to me on grad school applications.”
Meanwhile, her other campus activities “transformed who I was as a person. I came in shy, afraid of meeting new people and insecure about academics. My professors really cared that I succeeded, and I had a great support system of people I met through campus ministry and InterVarsity. Working for admission giving tours of campus really brought me out of my shell and gave me confidence in talking to strangers. I realized I liked working with people as much as I liked science. I’m leaving Central a brand-new person.”
She’s also leaving to go to her first-choice graduate school with a substantial scholarship. She didn’t start aiming for a career as an optometrist, but like so many other experiences at Central, things came together.
“My experience interning in a hospital in Mexico taught me that I really enjoyed relating to patients,” Rohr says. “At one point in my life, I had a partially detached retina, so I spent a lot of time with an ophthalmologist and was fascinated by what they did. I started shadowing an optometrist in Pella and ended up working for him. I decided that was the career for me.
“Academics are really important for a medical career and Central prepared me really well. I did quite well on my entrance exams because I’d been taught to learn and understand, not just to memorize,” she says. “Being a well-rounded student and able to interact confidently with my grad school interviewers was important, too. So was my research — it helped me conceptualize new ideas and to be persistent. Study abroad, being comfortable getting out of the box of my own experience — these were all assets.”
Graduation, she says, was bittersweet. “I knew it would be hard to leave Central. But I didn’t realize how hard it would be. I made some of the best friends here, I felt so established in such a great community. My love of Central really had a big effect on the kind of experience I was looking for in a graduate school. It set a high bar.”