Michelle Chu, Class of 2015: Midwest adventure leads to neuroscience

April 2018

Traveling the Midwest from Cincinnati to Grove City to Bloomington might not sound like the adventure of a lifetime. But for Mars Hill Academy graduate Michelle Chu (MHA ’15), it’s the path to becoming a neuroscientist.

She began her research through the University of Cincinnati while still a student at MHA and has studied molecular biology (with minors in computer science and mathematics) at Grove City College. Michelle has been actively involved in microbiology research, as well as neurobiology research at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Her work in these labs has resulted in five publications in peer-reviewed journals, as well as several oral and poster presentations at conferences. During the summer of 2017, she worked in an immunology lab at Loyola University in Chicago. Michelle recently was accepted to Indiana University’s dual degree MD/PhD program with the aim of becoming a neurologist and neuroscientist. 

Q: In addition to your studies, what have you been doing since graduating from MHA?

A: I have served as a teaching assistant for several biology labs and have trained students in the microbiology research lab. Teaching has been a novel experience but an enjoyable and amusing one. This past year I have served as president of the Tri-Beta Biology Honorary. This simply means that I have the pleasure of using my rhetorical skills gained from MHA to coerce members to participate in biology tutoring and outreach events.

On a less academic level, I’ve played in the school bell choir since freshman year. We play for nursing homes, church services, and the school chapel service. My bagpiping has also been put to use in demonstrations for cross-cultural music classes, weddings, and chasing smokers away from our dorm window. For those of you who knew me and my class, yes, I am still rooming with fellow Mars Hill alum Katie Wong. Bless her heart for putting up with me this long!

Q: In the interest of “keeping it real,” tell us about one your more challenging experiences at MHA.

A: Public speaking terrified me and, consequently, I was unsurprisingly awful at it. Coming into a school where the name of the high school is “Rhetoric” I’m sure you can imagine how well that initially went. Apparently, clinging to the podium for dear life and barreling through a talk is not ideal. However, after three years of taking rhetoric in which I drafted many papers (that were returned bountifully anointed in red ink), gave many speeches on topics ranging from Christmas trees to idolatry, and practiced techniques such as shouting into the wind to improve volume or talking with a pencil between my teeth to improve enunciation (I still think Dr. Cernucan made us do those things for a good laugh), my speaking and writing skills have not only improved but have been phenomenally helpful in college. 

Q: What has God taught you during your time in college?

A: After I received my AP calculus score, I happily told family, friends, and teachers that I was forever finished with mathematics. God must have chuckled because, little did I know, I would minor in mathematics in college. This and other instances have taught me to trust in God’s providence for the future. Now, obviously, I do not mean that I have stopped planning for the future. I simply mean that I no longer hold every future plan I make in a Gollum-like grasp. If the Spanish class I planned to take according to my color-coded Excel spreadsheet that detailed the next four years of my life is full, no big deal, I’ll take a different class. Maybe I’ll take a programming class, that sounds kind of fun. Who knows? Maybe it will lead to a fondness for computing and a minor in computer science. Maybe the classes required for the computer science minor are sufficient for a mathematics minor. Maybe the combination of computer science and mathematics competency is particularly well-regarded by MD/PhD programs and played a major role in my acceptance. Maybe, or, rather certainly, this all occurred by God’s good providence so that I can now be where He wants me.

Q: How did your MHA education prepare you for college… and beyond?

A: MHA prepared me for college, not through any particular subjects, but by honing my thinking, writing, and speaking skills. With respect to thinking, at the Rhetoric school level, most classes are designed such that synthesis of material and critical thinking are integral components. While tutoring students at GCC, I have found this to be one of the most common weak points - they want to memorize and spit out facts. While that has its place (we do need to memorize facts in order to apply them), it is insufficient for excellence at the college level. With respect to writing and speaking, three trial-by-fire years of rhetoric at MHA well prepares any graduate to reasonably present himself in either manner. As college is fraught with papers and presentations, the ability to write well and speak persuasively has been immensely beneficial.

Q: Do you have any advice for students?

A: Make the most of this college thing since you only get to do it once.

As this could be taken different ways, I should probably clarify. I am encouraging you to take interesting classes (interesting not necessarily easy), to put yourself out there in making new friends and developing connections with faculty (in a genuine way, don’t be a brown-noser… no one likes that), and to participate in clubs and gain new hobbies. College is a time to try new things and become a better-rounded person (literally so, if you don’t watch out for the freshman fifteen). I also suggest that you occasionally take a break from all the free pizza and soda that will be offered to eat the occasional vegetable. Lastly, and, most importantly, I encourage you not to sacrifice time with Lord for the sake of social or academic life. Some mornings it’s a struggle to read the Bible instead of studying that extra bit for an exam (of course, had I studied more in advance, I wouldn’t be in that pickle). However, as I have found from experience, the former was, is, and will always be the better option.