When Heather DeLorenzo was at the Kenai Moose Research Center on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska in June, the center was focusing its research on habitat use and reproduction rates.

First-generation student is Realizing the Dream at MU

Heather DeLorenzo doesn’t yet know what she wants do after she graduates from Manchester University, except for one thing: “I definitely want to do something that includes the outdoors,” sharing that passion with others and teaching about the environment.

As an MU student, she has banded songbirds at the Koinonia Environmental Center in Pierceton, Ind., camped in the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska and did field work assessing the biological diversity of rivers, streams and tributaries.

“I’d rather be outside than be cooped up in an office,” said the sophomore from Winamac, a northwest Indiana town of about 2,500 people on the Tippecanoe River, an hour west of the North Manchester campus.

DeLorenzo caught the attention of the Independent Colleges of Indiana, which honored her and 31 other high achievers this month for “Realizing the Dream.” The program acknowledges first-generation college students, now sophomores, for outstanding achievement in their first year. Funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc. since 1989, each selected student receives a $2,500 scholarship.

The students in turn are asked to name a teacher who most influenced their decision to attend college. The teacher receives a $1,000 Professional Development Grant.

DeLorenzo chose Darlene Gordon, her seventh-grade science teacher at Winamac Middle School, who said the grant will come in handy for classroom supplies.

“Dr. Gordon was always there for me, always pointing me to the right path,” DeLorenzo said.

DeLorenzo’s parents work for the Eastern Pulaski Community Schools, so her older brother, Steven, used to help Gordon in the science lab in the mornings before class. When Heather came along, she did the same beginning in sixth grade, helping out, talking about the future.

“I thought I couldn’t come here (to MU), “DeLorenzo said. “It’s completely affordable with all the financial aid.”

Heather DeLorenzo and Dr. Darlene Gordon at the ICI awards ceremonyGordon said Heather was a strong student and it was important for her to know that college was possible. Through high school, she would come down during study hall and serve as a cadet teacher, preparing cultures or whatever was needed in the science lab.

“She was an excellent learner, and if she didn’t know something she wasn’t afraid to ask,” Gordon said.

“You can find a way to do this,” she told DeLorenzo about college, encouraging her to consider financial aid and work-study options. The girl’s parents always stressed the importance of education, Gordon said, and are also doing their part to make a college education possible for their children.

In addition to receiving student aid, DeLorenzo is a student assistant in an MU Principles of Biology Lab, served as a dining services coordinator at the Peabody Retirement Community in North Manchester and has worked as a seasonal aquatic biologist intern for the Muncie Bureau of Water Quality. She is an interpretive naturalist at the Upper Wabash Interpretive Center at Salamonie Reservoir, organizing and leading interpretive nature programs.

DeLorenzo is also quick to acknowledge the sacrifices her parents made to make sure their children could attend college. “My parents always wanted me to have the opportunity to have what they did not,” she said.

Her dad, David, is director of transportation at Eastern Pulaski and her mom, Penny, is head cook at the district’s elementary school. Her brother attends Purdue University.

Heather DeLorenzo first visited MU when she was a junior in high school because of Ange Huffman, a family friend and assistant director of Admissions at MU. “She was the reason I ended up loving Manchester,” DeLorenzo said. That was the first of several visits to the North Manchester campus, although she’d already made up her mind at the first visit.

“I knew this was where I wanted to go the first time, but I kept coming back to visit,” she said.

DeLorenzo said that all of the staff and faculty – from cooks to professors – made her feel at home, like she mattered to them. “They really make you feel like they care about you,” she said.

Gordon is glad Heather has excelled at Manchester. She said she encourages Winamac students to consider smaller schools, because they can get “eaten up” at a large university.

Double majoring in biology and environmental studies and maintaining a grade-point average of 3.92, DeLorenzo participates in the Relay for Life of North Manchester, holds a position on the executive board of MU’s chapter of the American Fisheries Society and the MU Environmental Club. She has taken part in the annual Eel River Cleanup in North Manchester.

The best part of her University career so far has been a trip to Alaska in the summer of 2014, an adventure in learning that never would have occurred to her if Dr. Jerry Sweeten, head of MU’s environmental studies program and 2009 Indiana Professor of the Year, hadn’t encouraged her to sign up.

“It is something I never pictured myself doing,” she said. Nine Manchester students traveled to Alaska and traveled along the Kenai Peninsula for 16 days in June as part of an immersive field ecology course. Students hiked, climbed mountains, swam in glacier waters, tried sea kayaking and explored a moose research center. They went behind the scenes at the Sea Life Rehab Center in Seward.

“My favorite part of the trip was, surprisingly, jumping into the frigid 45-degree glacial lake water … it was so exhilarating and really opened my eyes to all of those adventurous, ‘once in a lifetime opportunities’ that you never dream about until you’re right there experiencing it, and it’s just so amazing,” DeLorenzo said.

This kind of rich, hands-on experience is not at all unusual at Manchester, and neither are first-generation students. More than a fifth of its students are first-gens – 22 percent of students at the North Manchester campus and more than 27 percent of those at the Fort Wayne campus.

Manchester University, with campuses in North Manchester and Fort Wayne, offers more than 60 areas of academic study to nearly 1,500 students in undergraduate programs, a Master of Athletic Training and a four-year professional Doctor of Pharmacy. Learn more about the private, northern Indiana school at www.manchester.edu.

November 19, 2014

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