Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2016 commencement. See more graduates here.
Some students may expect to coast through college with ease, just like they did in high school. At least, that’s what Darin Ellison said he thought during the summer before his freshman year.
“At first, I didn’t take my classes serious and thought my study habits from high school would get me the excellent grades I got back then,” Ellison, a soon-to-be graduate from the School of Life Sciences Microbiology undergraduate program, said. “I could not have been more wrong.”
Ellison said he had to quickly decide what kind of student he wanted to be. As a result, he stopped skipping assignments and counting on extra credit to get good grades. It meant spending less time with friends and working harder on his classes, but he said it was an investment in his ambitions. To balance all that work with more social activities, Ellison joined clubs that would let him make friends and advance his goals, such as the American Medical Student Association at Tempe and the Sun Devil Ski Club.
Undergraduate research was also a revelation for Ellison. He said he never gave any thought to the subject until he started looking toward his next step following graduation. When he realized most graduate programs place a major emphasis on research, he immediately combed the School of Life Sciences website for open research positions. He couldn’t find one and began to question whether he was making the right choices.
However, when School of Life Sciences assistant professor Heather Bean arrived on campus, a new opportunity arose. Since Bean was just starting her lab, Ellison seized the chance to get in on the ground floor. His tenacity paid off. Ellison learned to present his research in front of others and to use his critical thinking skills. All of that, he said, might not have happened if he hadn’t come to ASU.
Name: Darrin Ellison
Major, school/college: Microbiology; School of Life Sciences
Hometown: Victorville, CA
Question" What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: My “aha” moment came during my junior year of high school. My family and I were discussing possible colleges to apply to and what programs might fit my interest. At that time, I was obsessed with crime-solving TV shows, such as Law and Order, CSI: Miami and Bones. This obsession directed me toward a field that focused on examining the “little things,” because those tended to hold more information than evidence seen with the naked eye. Thus, the closest field I could find that possessed this trait was microbiology. So far, it has been everything I thought it would be and much more.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: I took a course on HIV/AIDS (MIC 314) taught by Damien Salamone, and I was shocked at how prevalent, stigmatized and life-altering a disease like AIDS can be for the individual diagnosed with it, as well as, the perception of them by their family or friends. I now have a better understanding of why people have a strong fear toward those with the disease, as well as why the disease has not been cured despite combined efforts within the U.S. and abroad. Overall, it made me realize that people with AIDS are more scared of “us” than we should fear them, because at least we have a relatively healthy immune system.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I chose ASU because I absolutely love the location and I went to grade school in Phoenix. We are six hours from the sunny beaches of San Diego, California, two-and-a-half hours from the snow-capped mountains in northern Arizona and we have campuses in all the major areas within the Valley. Furthermore, all the amenities offered by ASU (research, jobs, lifestyle, entertainment, etc.) are up to par or in most cases even better than the competition.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: No matter what, keep moving forward. I initially thought four years would take forever, but it felt like it went by faster than the four years of high school. The best thing to do is get involved, because that will make the time fly-by. College will test your ability to manage all your time and manage your emotional state, as well as your ability to be creative with all the resources ASU has to offer. Through all the experiences, good or bad, ASU has provided me with the ability to become a more compassionate, diverse and critical-thinking individual.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: The Life Science E building because it is one of the tallest buildings found on the Tempe campus, so taking the elevator up to the fifth or sixth floor after having a rough day, really helped to ease my mind and get me refocused on what’s most important in my life (family, friends, my dog, and my goals).
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: After graduation, I plan to continue my research with professor Heather Bean, apply to graduate schools (medical or master’s) and enjoy all the outdoor activities Arizona has to offer with family and friends, especially skiing and camping.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I am a bit biased because the research I do involves the study of chronic lung infections, thus I would choose to allocate that money towards developing a new breath-based diagnostic tool that can detect lung infections from cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, tuberculosis and other aerosolized diseases.
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