Stand out with hands-on experience

December 4, 2014

Book smarts and degrees carry a significant amount of weight when applying to graduate school, but when it comes to setting yourself apart, nothing quite says “pick me!” like hands on experience.

With his dad and grandpa in the same profession, you could say love for wildlife biology runs deep in Northwest Nazarene University alumnus Andrew Olsen ('12). Knowing wildlife biology was where he ultimately wanted to end up, it may seem odd that Andrew chose a school without that specific major, but what Andrew gained from his education at NNU far exceeded what he could have learned in any classroom.

Majoring in biology with an emphasis in ecology and biodiversity, Andrew chose the area of study that was the closest to wildlife biology as he could get at NNU. When he began applying for graduate school, he was a little intimidated by other students who held wildlife degrees, but was pleasantly surprised when he found he was more prepared than his counterparts.

With NNU's small size, undergraduate students have opportunity to be involved in research and to build close relationships with professors, both of which Andrew took full advantage. He was able to participate in some great field experience that set him apart from others applying to graduate school. Although students from other schools may have had an actual wildlife biology degree, their resumes did not even come close to matching up with Andrew's.

"He became more than just my teacher; he became my mentor."
At NNU, Andrew was heavily involved with the biology department, helping with the herpetology lab, taking care of the animals that live in the science building, and researching reptiles and amphibians. During this time, Andrew began to form a relationship with Dr. John Cossel: "He kinda took me under his wing, and I tried to absorb as much knowledge as I could from him. He became more than just my teacher; he became my mentor." Cossel said that Andrew "took advantage of every opportunity I had for research."

Andrew spent the spring semester of his sophomore year studying abroad in Costa Rica, which he described as an experience that "changed my world view." The experience spanned much more than just the research on rabbits he did while he was there. "It was not only academic, but a spiritual experience as well. You just can't see the world the same again after an experience like that."

While many students study abroad in college, few are lucky enough to do it twice. In the summer of 2011, Andrew spent a month with Cossel in Costa Rica researching amphibians, an experience that was unlike any other. Their time in Costa Rica consisted of studying disease ecology of frogs. Andrew, along with the other students on the team, all presented their findings at a regional science conference sponsored by the Murdock Charitable Trust.

While studying alongside Cossel, Andrew even published a short paper, an achievement that is rarely heard of in undergraduate studies. Andrew knew his list of accomplishments and achievements would have looked very different if he had not attended NNU. "What other school could I have gone to and had that experience?"
"What other school could I have gone to and had that experience?"
While NNU provides opportunities for experience, the academic learning that takes place at NNU is still top notch. Andrew felt beyond prepared for graduate school and was even ahead of others. "NNU prepared me very well academically and with my experiences, which gave me an advantage." Andrew was set up for success.

Andrew is just finishing up with a master's degree in range and wildlife management at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where he has been studying parasites and quail. With another chapter closing, Andrew is looking ahead to the next. He will continue on with his education pursing a Ph.D. program at Oregon State University studying sage grouse. 

Starting with a solid foundation at NNU, Andrew has been able to launch straight into a graduate program and soon into a doctoral program, all inching him closer to his dream of following his dad and grandfather's footsteps of becoming a wildlife biologist.