CLAREMONT — Communities frequently evaluate their school systems based on what the students achieve during their K-12 education. While such data is important, the successes of students after they leave high school should arguably be held in similar regard.
Stevens High School 2016 graduate Rachel Dansereau is an arguable example of how following our students in their post-secondary journeys can provide our current students with instrumental lessons and our educators with a boost of affirmation.
Dansereau graduated this spring from Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, with a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.2 and two Bachelor’s degrees, one in neuroscience and one in education. In her final semester she earned a Dean’s Award with Distinction, given to students who receive a term GPA of 3.6 or higher while taking at least course credits.
While Dansereau, 23, has long been academically driven — she was the Salutatorian of her graduating class at Stevens — many decisions on her path, including her choice of major, came unexpectedly and in their own time.
“Neuroscience was something that I had never really considered,” Dansereau told the Eagle Times. “When I saw it at Colgate, in my second year, I decided to take a class. And I ended up loving it.”
In addition to being fascinated by the cohesive interworking of the brain’s various mechanisms, Dansereau said she loved that “there is still so much we really don’t know about the brain.”
College also positively changed Dansereau’s preconception about research, which she had previously imagined being tedious and solitary.
“It was pretty much the exact opposite of that,” she said. “It was fun and collaborative. And it was fun to use the skills that I had developed from late high school and early college to actually apply to what I was doing.”
Dansereau is currently working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, as part of a post-baccalaureate award, which will allow her to continue honing her research and scientific skills while working under a principal researcher. When the position concludes, expectedly in a couple of years, Dansereau said she plans to enter graduate school, preferably in the New England area. Her long term goal is to become a college professor, which will enable her to combine research with teaching.
Like many high school graduates, Dansereau said she was initially shocked by the difference between high school and college, particularly for a first-generation college student. But she had also learned from her upbringing in Claremont, a relatively small but closely-knit community, how to build relationships and meet new people.
“That helped me in college because relatively quickly I was able to establish relationships with my professors, where I was able to ask for help, schedule office hours and communicate when I was struggling and what I needed to be successful in the class,” she explained.
Her advice to future college freshman is to realize that feeling overwhelmed initially is not only natural but being shared by every other incoming student.
“Everyone is coming from that same situation and not everyone, even if it looks that way, is doing so amazing,” Dansereau said. “It’s important to recognize that it’s okay to struggle with some things or to take a little bit longer than other people because everyone has their ups and downs, especially during that transition period.”
That realization also helped Dansereau learn to stop worrying about measuring herself with other people and seeing college as a time to create one’s own expectations and experiences.
“In reality, college is about making sure that everything you’re doing is going to benefit you rather than worrying about the people around you,” she said.
While cognizant of some of the challenges within the Claremont schools, Dansereau said she believes that a student who seeks the educational opportunities will find them.
“Obviously, the Claremont education system isn’t perfect,” she said. “But I think if you apply yourself, work hard and create the most opportunities that you can, you will be successful.”