East Alum Graduates UW-Eau Claire in 2-1/2 years

East Alum Graduates UW-Eau Claire in 2-1/2 years
Posted on 12/14/2018
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Some kids look to their parents for the answers to those often-asked questions like “Why is the sky blue?”

Emily Witt decided to figure it out for herself at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

“I wanted to be a biology major because I was always interested in ‘why,’” said Witt, a 2016 Wausau East High School graduate who this month will graduate from UW-Eau Claire with a degree in biology. “Why does my heart beat? Why is the sky blue? Why do animals interact the way they do? Biology helps me answer the ‘why’ questions in the world.”

Witt earned a bachelor's in what would have been the midway point of her junior year, with help from college credits she earned through Wausau East's international baccalaureate program.

In just 2 1/2 years in college, she’s also found a plethora of outside-the-class room opportunities that allowed her to use her knowledge in real-world settings.

As part of a zoology class, Witt spent two weeks in Costa Rica, both by the coast and in the cloud forest, looking for marine invertebrates and tropical invertebrates that connect to what she was learning in class.

“The field study really enhanced my classroom experience because I could see the organisms we discussed in class in their natural habitats,” Witt said.

A summer internship at the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos Islands created more real-world learning opportunities.

“I conducted my own study where I was able to describe a fish species endemic to Galapagos,” she said. “Little was known about the species or the sustainability of the fishing of this species. I evaluated if the fishing was sustainable. I’m currently working on publishing my research.”

During her internship, she also worked on other studies regarding marine conservation in Galapagos.

Those experiences made her rethink her future career plans, which had included working in the medical field. She now wants to work with marine-related research.

“When I was in Costa Rica, I fell in love with marine invertebrates, and I had to admit to myself that I would never feel as fulfilled working in a hospital every day — my previous plan — because of the joy I felt from looking in tide pools,” Witt said.

Witt is getting a jump on her career partly because she came to UW-Eau Claire with more than 30 college credits already completed. She was one of the top students in her class at Wausau East, which offers IB rather than the more common Advanced Placement, or AP, program.

But she also took a heavy course load at Eau Claire, pushing herself to graduate early while leaving enough time to take the biology classes that interested her.

The biology faculty, she says, supported and challenged her every step of the way.

“I was able to create amazing connections with my professors, which was one of the most meaningful aspects of my college career,” Witt said.

She now will attend Southern Cross University in Australia, where she will assist in research involving whales, their migratory patterns and how they are affected by climate change.

Witt also plans to attend graduate school to study shark conservation, a program that will lead, she hopes, to a career working specifically with whale sharks.

Witt said she almost turned away from UW-Eau Claire, for the same reason she's now proud to have continued a family tradition. Both her parents, Laura and Andy Witt, are Blugold alumni.

“My parents graduating from UW-Eau Claire initially deterred me from attending here,” she said. “I wanted to be my own person and have my own experiences.

“But when my parents convinced me to tour UW-Eau Claire, it gave me a sense of home that I could not deny. I knew that I had to attend.”

Photo courtesy of Wausau East High School