Science has always come easy for Bethany Caldwell. A senior biology major at The College of Wooster and a resident of Beallsville, Ohio (pop. 400), a coal-mining community near the banks of the Ohio River, Caldwell admits that she didn't have to spend a lot of time studying in high school. But she did develop a passion for courses like biology and chemistry. "I've always loved science," she says. "My chemistry teacher, Dr. Conner, was very influential in my choice to pursue it in college."
Caldwell longed to continue that pursuit at a large university or major research institution, but a spur-of-the-moment visit to The College of Wooster in 2005 changed everything. "I thought I wanted to go to a big school, but when I went to some of those campuses, I didn't care for them," says Caldwell. "When I came to Wooster, I absolutely loved it."
During that initial visit, Caldwell took a stroll through Severance Hall, Wooster's chemistry building, where a chance encounter with one of the professors proved to be pivotal. "I ran into Dr. Bromund (emeritus professor of chemistry), and he stopped what he was doing to give me a tour," says Caldwell. "That really impressed me. He spent a half-hour going over the curriculum and telling me about the College, even though I'm sure he had other things to do."
The more she thought about it, the more she realized that Wooster was the place for her. "I was interested in medical school, and I thought I.S. (Wooster's nationally acclaimed Independent Study program, which matches a student with a faculty member in a year-long research project that culminates in a graduate-level thesis, performance, or exhibition) would open a lot of doors." Little did she know how many.
After declaring biology as her major, Caldwell took advantage of several research opportunities, including one offered by Michelle Solensky, assistant professor of biology, who studies the mating patterns of monarch butterflies. "Dr. Solensky was very helpful," says Caldwell. "I participated in a summer research program with her following my sophomore year."
Solensky also wrote letters of recommendation for Caldwell and helped her to land a REU-NSF (Research Experience for Undergraduates sponsored by the National Science Foundation) at the University of Minnesota, where she studied the potential of iron-reducing bacteria in the soil as a potential energy source.
"I was immediately impressed by Bethany's academic achievements, and I have since come to really appreciate just how hard-working and intelligent she is," says Solensky. "What amazes me is that she is so humble and genuine, that I suspect most people have no idea just how smart she is. Bethany is one of those rare students who is talented and motivated enough to go anywhere and do anything she sets her mind to."
Another significant experience came during spring break of her sophomore year when she traveled to Kenya to tour AIDS clinics and work in villages during a 10-day service trip sponsored by the Wooster Rotary Club. "It was an amazing trip," she says. "It made me start thinking seriously about international medicine."
When Caldwell returned to Wooster, she continued to focus on her studies. Except for three A-minuses, she has been a perfect student with a 3.94 grade point average and membership in Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and largest academic honor society. She has also found time to serve as president of the Wooster chapter of Tri-Beta, a national biological honor society, and to work at Timken Science Library. In addition, she has taught 5th-grade science at Apple Creek Elementary School through the former Wooster Science Center, and she started a chapter of Rotaract (the collegiate branch of Rotary International) at Wooster.
Caldwell's impressive academic achievements as well as her involvement in extracurricular activities led to her admission into medical school at Case Western Reserve University and interviews at three other schools.
But she has decided to defer until 2010 so that she can return to Africa to study public health on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship. After completing medical school, she plans to look into Doctors without Borders, an international medical humanitarian organization that provides aid and impartial assistance to people who are threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe.
"Coming from a small town, I was naive about a lot of things," says Caldwell. "Wooster affected my viewpoints and enabled me to meet a lot of people that I would not have met. As I look back, it has had quite an impact on me."