Not many students can say they graduated with a 4.0 grade point average in their major and a 3.94 overall GPA. Eli Zachary, this year’s Delmer Dewey Award recipient for Outstanding Senior Male, can claim that honor. Not only does he have an incredible academic record – he majored in biology (with an emphasis in cellular and molecular biology) and minored in chemistry; two notoriously challenging disciplines.
Zachary said he has always been a science person. As a kid he was glued to Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel. In high school he took more than the required science classes and always did well in them. The AP Biology course, in particular, helped him realize that biology was the scientific area he wanted to focus on.
His sister, who is three years older than him, also attended Western Oregon University. He went to visit her during her freshman year and found that he liked campus and the small class sizes. He returned as a senior in high school to visit the Biology Department and met with faculty. “I liked Western,” he said. “After coming here, I knew I made the right decision.”
Zachary is also a member of the Honors Program and completed a thesis involving fruit flies; part of ongoing biological research with two faculty members. “It’s been a taste of what real research is like,” he said. He was able to experience both the conceptual side of research and the practical elements, like making food for the fruit flies. Throughout his time at WOU, Zachary tried to help other students and mentored a new Honors Program cohort in addition to working hard on his own studies.”In every science class that I’ve taken here, I have felt determined to perform at my best on every test and master every concept. And while it has led to many sleepless nights, I have maintained the position at the top of my class in the Biology Department,” he said.
He plans to continue these interests after graduation by pursuing a doctoral program in gene therapy or stem cell research. Zachary hopes to find a research job outside of Oregon. “It would be an amazing experience to travel and work in a different place than I’m used to.”
Somehow, Zachary managed to be involved with activities outside of his academic department. For three years, he worked as a resident assistant (RA) in campus housing. “Living on campus was something that I really liked,” he said. During his freshman year he got to know his RA and thought he may want to stick around the residence halls. He got involved with hall government then applied to be an RA. “It was totally different than anything I’d ever done,” he said, adding, “I wanted to challenge myself and do something new.”
“I really love the people that I’ve worked with. Working in housing has been a really good experience for me,” he said. “The way I’ve seen myself change and how capable I feel has given me confidence. That confidence grew with each year. How I go about handling things is just a more comfortable thing.”
When asked what he appreciated most about WOU looking back on his college career, he replied that it was the campus community. “The more involved you are, the more connected you feel. I’ve really enjoyed being involved and walking through WUC and seeing all these people I know and stopping to talk to them.”
This year’s finalists were Joseph Hahn (Sacramento, Calif., B.A. interdisciplinary studies) and Nathan Etheridge (Grants Pass, Ore., B.S. pre-professional biology).