05/17/2018 | News release | Distributed by Public on 05/16/2018 23:46
College is challenging for anyone, but imagine what it would be like if you'd only started to learn the English language a mere five months before enrolling. That was the case for Maryelle Nyeck Nyeck ('18 Chemistry) when she was an incoming freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
Nyeck Nyeck grew up in Cameroon, Africa, where the native language is French. After earning her high school diploma, she decided to embark on an adventure sparked by her aunt and five cousins, all of whom are UW-Superior alumni. They told her about their experiences at the University, and though she'd never visited the campus and didn't speak a word of English, she knew it was the place for her.
Nyeck Nyeck packed her bags, said goodbye to her parents and siblings, and flew more than 6,600 miles, only to be greeted by frigid temperatures and a frozen white substance covering the ground that she had never seen before. Undaunted, Nyeck Nyeck enrolled in a five-month intensive language immersion program at the Global Language Institute (GLI) in Minneapolis.
'GLI helped me learn to write more than speak,' she said. 'So, I knew I just had to get out and talk to people to really learn the language, but it was scary. Fortunately I'm not shy, so I just started striking up conversations, explaining to people that I might not understand everything or be able to respond properly.'
Achieving her goals one step at a time
With this 'no fear' attitude and her father's words ringing in her ears - 'Maryelle, no matter what happens in your life, set a goal and keep working to reach it,' - she plunged into student life and academics at UW-Superior.
'It was really difficult because I had to translate everything in my head,' said Nyeck Nyeck. 'Sometimes I got headaches from concentrating so hard, but I just kept going toward my goal of earning a degree.'
Nyeck Nyeck joined the track & field team her freshman year and said it was one of the best decisions she made. She instantly connected with teammates and Coach Glen Drexler, and began to feel more and more at home in her new campus community.
But, as her classes got more challenging, Nyeck Nyeck traded in her track shoes to focus on her studies. That was when she met Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza and her world changed.
'I had heard great things about Dr. Rios, so I requested her as my advisor,' she said. 'But, she became much more than that to me. She's like a second mom.'
Nyeck Nyeck became one of Dr. Rios' student researchers, helping her with her microplastics environmental pollution research, a landmark body of work that has garnered international attention.
'Maryelle is my star student at looking for and finding microplastic particles (fragments, microbeads, and fibers) from water and fish stomachs,' said Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza. 'I can tell you that she has plenty of experience in the wet lab now. She is persistent, responsible, and wants to continue her studies in Forensic Sciences. I wish her the very best in all her future endeavors.'
'The money I earned working for Dr. Rios helped me pay my tuition, but it did far more than that. She taught me how to solve problems in the laboratory and in life, and helped me establish my next goal - to attend graduate school to become a forensic scientist.'
Nyeck Nyeck was elated to learn she has been accepted to graduate school at George Mason University and Alabama State University and is currently deciding between the two. She will cross the stage at UW-Superior commencement on May 19, 2018, leaving an indelible mark on the University, having served as its Black Student Union president, completing an internship with the Superior Police Department, and presenting her microplastics research at the state and national level.
With tears in her eyes knowing her family may not be able to travel from Cameroon to see her graduate this spring, Maryelle said, 'It makes me happy to know they're proud of me. Someday, I hope to return to Cameroon to use my education and experience to benefit my native country.'