The Science of Learning: Recent PNW Graduate Eyes Career in Global Health

By: Purdue University Northwest Last Updated: May 31, 2017

Kunnen-Rachel-0517Rachel Kunnen has had a fascination with science since fourth grade. Through the years, her interest in the subject deepened and she continued to study biology when she enrolled at Purdue University Northwest.

Ultimately, she declared a double major and earned bachelor’s degrees in biology and secondary education this spring.

The Plymouth resident will continue her education at the University of Notre Dame to pursue a master’s degree in Global Health.

“I chose this program because I always had a desire to help those in need,” she said. “My parents taught me to leave the world a better place. I hope to achieve that goal by helping people in third world countries.”

She would like to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization. She also plans to earn her Ph.D.

An interest in microbiology
Kunnen admits that she initially planned to start working toward her bachelor’s degree at the Westville Campus, then transfer to West Lafayette. But her plans quickly changed.

“After meeting my research advisor (assistant professor of biology) Lindsay Gielda, I realized my interest in biology and found my true calling in the field of microbiology and the interactions that take place between pathogens on plant surfaces,” Kunnen said.

Student honors and activities
Her research in the subject earned first place for poster presentations during PNW’s annual Student Research Day activities in 2016 and 2017. In 2016 she presented her research at the Butler University Undergraduate Research Conference. She will present her current research at the 2017 ASM Conference in New Orleans in June.

In addition, Kunnen earned an Indiana Space Grant and a PNW Honors College Research Grant.

Her other campus activities included helping to transcribe videos for the School of Education & Counseling that will aid in research, and she worked with Assistant Professor of Microbiology Scott Bates to help catalog all known fungal species in Indiana. Additionally, she served as Honors College president, Equestrian Team president and captain, was as a member of Delta Sigma science club and Tri Beta biological honor society, and she helped with the Delta Sigma Science Fair.

Off campus, she holds down a job, has volunteered with her my local fire department and the Portage Animal Shelter.

Words of advice
Kunnen believes she had the usual worries and obstacles most college students face, “trying to pay for college and afford groceries, keeping up with classes, maintaining a stable job and home life – the normal college stresses,” she said.

Her advice to anyone contemplating attending college is to “write out the benefits and downfalls of the colleges that interest you. That will help you make a choice.”

That expressed, she is pleased with her decision to pursue her degree at PNW.

“PNW showed me the value of attending a smaller school,” Kunnen explained. “Attending a small school eased my transition from high school to college, I think many students will feel the same.

“PNW presents many opportunities. It was easy to form relationships with students and professors. Professors take time to speak with individual students. At PNW you can experience the wonders of a small college.”