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Research and flexibility: Military veteran mom finds right fit at ASU Online


ASU Online student Michelle Boutin and family

Photo courtesy of Samantha Lynn Photography.

May 04, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Michelle Boutin’s time in the Air Force took her from the rural Midwest to the West Coast, but she didn’t have to travel a single mile to earn her college degree. 

The military veteran and mother of two is graduating from the School of Life Sciences this spring with her Bachelor of Science in biological science with a concentration in conservation biology and ecology. She had searched for a school where she could balance family life with school life, and she found it with ASU Online

“It was during my service that I met my husband,” she said. “I chose to leave the Air Force after my son was born in order to focus on my family and provide stability while my husband continues to serve. We now have two kids, ages 3 and 5, and they are my primary reason for having chosen ASU Online. I wanted to find the best balance between working on my education and spending as much time as possible with my kids. ASU has allowed me to do just that.”

Boutin chose conservation biology and ecology because of its focus on solving environmental and ecological challenges such as climate change and habitat destruction.

“My favorite course was probably Environmental Ethics because it had a way of challenging your choices in everything you do,” she said. “I really enjoyed looking at different perspectives and using new knowledge to reevaluate my beliefs when it comes to the way I eat and live.”

She was excited to discover the research opportunities available to online students. Boutin became a School of Life Sciences Undergraduate Research (SOLUR) apprentice and took part in the Online Undergraduate Research Scholars (OURS) program, an opportunity for students grow academically and professionally through group-based research and mentorship.  

“In high school, I always felt like online classes were do-it-yourself kinds of courses with instructors only there if you needed help, but my experience with ASU Online was much more proactive,” she said. “The best opportunity I had was the one-week spring 2023 research immersion for online students in which we were able to get hands-on lab experience while learning about cell culture, immunocytochemistry, molecular biology, beekeeping, and more.”

Now Boutin is focused on the next step in her family’s journey and knowing that, wherever military life takes them, there will be a new opportunity waiting to work with wildlife and nature. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I don’t think there was one specific moment. I was majoring in biological sciences mainly because of my interest in and passion for wildlife and realized that all of the classes I wanted to take for electives were required for the conservation biology and ecology major. I changed majors and all of my requirements were classes I would have chosen anyway and then I got to take even more interesting classes as electives.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU Online — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I was surprised to learn about the research opportunities available to online students. Before ASU, I had accepted that I wouldn’t be able to do any research as an online student. I am so grateful that I was wrong.

Q: Why did you choose ASU Online?

A: I was looking for online universities that had strong science degrees and ASU really stood out. In addition, I am a military wife with two young children, and ASU gave me the ability to schedule school around my home life.  

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU Online?

A: Dr. Susan Holechek taught me that online school doesn’t have to be as impersonal as it had been previously. She really took the time to be engaged in her class and reached out to me with encouragement to get involved in opportunities available to online students that I hadn’t heard about. Taking her course made me less worried about completing my bachelor’s degree online.  

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I think my best piece of advice would be to find the balance you need in your life. School looks much different for me with two kids at home than it does for those just out of high school. I had to accept that I didn’t have enough time to do everything I wanted, so I just needed to find the balance that worked best for me and my family.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: Since most of the time I am home with my kids, our family room was where I got most things done. Sometimes I’d set my toddlers up with a notebook and pens or a play laptop so they could “work” alongside me. I got pretty good at multitasking and studying wherever and whenever I could find the time!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Since we are a military family, I know we will be moving in about a year, but don’t know where we will be going. My next location will determine what opportunities will be available. I do know that I would eventually like to get my master’s degree and work with wildlife in one way or another.  

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: $40 million sounds like a lot, but I don’t believe it would be enough to solve any significant issues globally. However, I do think that putting the money towards conservation and conservation education would definitely be a worthwhile cause. It is my hope that my children and their children, and so on, will still be able to marvel at nature and the amazing life it supports. 

Written by Margot LaNoue for ASU Online.

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