Entering college can be, and often is, a very rocky and uncertain transition from the formative years of high school. This is something biochemistry major Shan Deneen very much related to regarding her process of applying to and enrolling in college, which she called a “weird story.” In high school, she was very interested in non-STEM subjects, like art, and she really considered going into an art school and following that career path. However, she quickly realized art was not for her, as she wanted to do something that challenged her as a person. A number of her high school teachers discouraged her from pursuing anything STEM-related just because she did not have a lot of money during grade school. Her teachers would tell her that STEM was not the right call, that she was not good at it, and these words stuck with her when she was applying to college.
As a high schooler, Deneen did not think she was a great student, and she wanted to prove both herself and her harsh teachers wrong. This was her thought process as she applied to and enrolled in Whittier College. She is grateful for the College, as it was “the best thing that ever could have happened” as a result of the degradation she faced in high school. Being in college, and especially in the comfortable community of WC, inspired Deneen to get serious about school. She went from around a 3.0 GPA in high school to being a strong student in all of her classes, now approaching a 4.0 as her four years wrap up.
WC was a really significant part of Deneen’s journey into becoming a hard worker. “Whittier College challenged me in the realms that I needed to be challenged,” said Deneen. She appreciates the close interaction she and other students were able to have with professors, especially in research. There are things that students at WC can do that are not possible at bigger schools, Deneen acknowledged. She met a lot of “really cool people” that she believes she will remain connected with throughout her career, and she is even working on a publication with her research advisor, Dr. Christina Bauer.
Currently, Deneen is unsure what she is planning for her senior project, but she is considering tying in the research she has already done into it. This research includes physics, chemistry, and math, with the intention of further figuring out how the world works on scientific terms. Looking further into the future, though, Deneen already has some post-graduation plans. Her overall plan is to do “chemistry research within the scope of academia.” She wants to get into a PhD program (she is currently applying to three, but her dream school is MIT) — and, as much as she loves California, she thinks it is time to move somewhere else, to experience another new place. She has already been to over 20 countries, as she loves to travel, and even lived overseas when she was younger. She is half-Chinese and went to high school in Hong Kong; she is also fluent in Mandarin.
Deneen does not plan on moving that far away, though. She misses the east coast (as she used to live there as well), and might settle in Boston, or anywhere in New York. She is thinking about a senior trip, which might take her across the ocean again, but she is still unsure because COVID-19 is still spreading like wildfire in the U.S., and she still may not be able to travel very far after graduation. She does plan on taking a gap year, which allows her a bigger window of potential travel, but still, who knows if the spread of COVID-19 will subside enough to allow safe travel?
Luckily, Deneen still has some time to enjoy at WC, which is extra enjoyable because of the people she has met. One of Deneen’s biggest influences among Whittier College staff is Dr. Bauer. Deneen acknowledged how difficult it is to find female role models in the STEM field, especially ones that are strong in students’ areas of interest (in Deneen’s case, she is interested in becoming a physical chemist, which is what Dr. Bauer is). Even more difficult would be seeking out these women as mentors. Deneen even cited this type of person as “almost impossible to find,” which is why she feels so lucky and grateful to have Dr. Bauer as a mentor. “She is a genius. She is ridiculously smart; [I am] really lucky to have her as an advisor and professor.” The two have a personal connection on top of a student-professor one, which only strengthens their relationship.
Deneen understands what it is like to be lost coming into college, so she urges current students to try everything and see what works out. “That’s what’s great about going to a liberal arts school; you can try anything you want. No matter what weird classes you take, it’ll fill a requirement for [graduation].” She also suggests getting the liberal arts and breadth requirements out of the way in order to focus on major requirements and desired electives. Also, “Try to develop strong relationships with professors as early on as possible. This [could lead to] good letters of recommendation [and] research opportunities.” Overall, making connections with professors who encourage and support you, instead of trying to dictate what you are capable of, is what will help the college experience be a good one.