Student Spotlight: The Chemist with A Passion for Music

Student: Bryan Lara ’17bryan lara

Hometown: Anaheim, CA

I’ve known Bryan since freshman year when we were in College Singers, one of the student choirs on campus. When I found out Bryan was majoring in the sciences, I was a little surprised. He was so involved in the music department that I assumed he was a music major.

Now, we are seniors and I have gotten to know Bryan very well. I see him now as just another K student with opposing majors and minors, because that’s just the kind of school Kalamazoo is. So I sat down to talk with him about his academic life at Kalamazoo, and how that has in turn influenced the rest of his time here at K.

What’s your major? Or majors?

Ok, so I am a Bio—wait no I’m not—sorry. I am a chemistry major. I have a biochemistry and molecular biology concentration and I have a minor in music.

Ok, well those first two things make sense together, but the music? How did that get thrown in there?

I’ve been a part of a music program since seventh grade so after high school I realized I didn’t want to let go of music. One of the plus sides about K is you don’t have to be a music major or minor to be affiliated with the ensembles and take classes, so I decided to do both fall quarter freshman year. That was when I realized I really wasn’t ready to let go. At first I tried to make it a double major, but I wanted to spend more time in the hard sciences so I dropped it to a minor. I was just being realistic and trying not to spread myself too thin but it’s a passion I’ve always had.

How has your chemistry major and the hard sciences impacted your involvement on campus?

I think every quarter varies, but there is that baseline where I know what I can do and what I can’t, and what I can reach for and push myself to do. For example, since I usually take two science classes a quarter that means I know I should split them on which days I take them and when I can be involved in certain organizations. I can think to myself, “I probably can’t be in this club because I have a pre-lab due the next day.” In some ways it’s been restrictive, but in other ways it’s made me join other clubs like SUKUMA (a club for minorities in the hard sciences), which is really nice. I didn’t even know it was a thing until one of my friends was like “there is this club, you should come join!”. It makes me feel like I’m a part of something on this campus that not everybody else is, because the hard science isn’t for everyone. It definitely has positives and negatives but I feel like I made the right choice.

Did you come into K knowing you wanted to be a chemistry major or did that just kind of happen?

When I came in, I knew I wanted to do a hard science. I actually started in biology. Since I’m mostly in the pre-med track, it means you still have to take a lot of chemistry, so originally I declared biology and was just taking chemistry classes. Then I realized that the biology at K isn’t necessarily the biology I really love. I started taking more chemistry almost by accident because I really liked it and I was good at it. It felt natural for me to switch from biology to chemistry. It’s still a hard science, and it’s still pre-med, and I’ve loved my decision. I do my chemistry classes, and sometimes I may be confused out of my mind, but I still enjoy it.

Was it hard to switch from biology to chemistry?

No, because I’m on the pre-med track, the classes line up pretty closely. There were a few, like my ecology class that was just an extra class. So it actually worked out really well.

So, you’re a senior and you completed your SIP (Senior Individualized Project). How was that? Did you do it in your major?

Yeah, I did. It was stressful, but it ended up being worth it. The research I ended up doing was completely different from what I expected. It was definitely a good different because I got to do a lot of stuff that you don’t always realize goes into research. I collected participants, drawing blood samples, preparing the samples. I thought I was just going to be doing the nitty-gritty of what I had to do for my SIP, but no, I did a lot more and my supervisor was actually really supportive, and so was the rest of the chemistry department when I got back on campus in the fall. All of the students are supportive of each other and help each other out with stuff like formatting and editing. Teamwork makes the dream work, guys!

Did you go on study abroad?

Yeah, I did. I went to Ecuador and I did the ecology and ecosystem program for six months.

And what was that like? Was it related to chemistry?   

No, actually I officially decided to be a chemistry major after that program. Before that I was technically a biology major and a chemistry major.

So study abroad was really like a turning point for you in your K career?

Yeah, I was still very on the fence sophomore year and I thought this program would help me decide. Ecology fascinates me, but I have a passion for organic chemistry which most people find odd, since its one of the more difficult kinds of chemistry. That said, the Ecuador program is just phenomenal. You get to do research in the Amazon rain forest and the Galapagos Islands, and it’s just such an experiences that I don’t think many people get to have, and oh my, it was paradise and I loved it.

One last question for you: Why did you pick K?

Well, I applied to 14 different schools when I applied to college. At first I was drawn to Kalamazoo College at a college fair because of the name, but then I ended up really liking what I read about it in the brochures. When I got accepted to schools I started doing visits and after visiting all the schools I felt the most at home at K. Even though it was out of state, which is something I wanted when I was applying to schools, it still felt like home and I was more comfortable here than any other school. Everyone was just so welcoming and nice. I felt like K was a place I could grow since it’s so nurturing. And I always thought I could transfer back to UCLA if I didn’t love it, but I didn’t. Now, I’m a senior and I’m going to be sad to leave come June.

Interview conducted by Isabella Kerivan ’17

Live to Write

Despite my insistence that 1990 was ’about 10 years ago’, this year my class (K’94) will meet in Kalamazoo for our 20th reunion. When I visited the reunion page to start making plans, I found a link to our class yearbook and in the yearbook I found this picture:

Vintage class photo of fifteen students with handwritten note Job-hunting English majors: Live to write! Don't write to live. You can't eat words! Signed, Ellen Caldwell
(That’s me, second row, second from the left.)

I was lucky enough to be an English major at K, and I was even luckier to have Dr. Ellen Caldwell as my advisor, mentor, and teacher. She knew her students well….so well, in fact, she could almost see into the future with her sage advice.

Her encouragement to “live to write” instead of writing to live may not have made much sense to me at the time, but 20 years later, I think I can finally see the difference. The times I have tried to “write to live,” I’ve ended up going down dead-end paths and feeling lost. On the other hand, when I have been able to “live to write,” I have had incredible journeys that have filled me to the top.

Since I’ve left K, I have lived to write while teaching English to Hmong and Somali refugees. I’ve lived to write as I tried to help prisoners learn to read. I lived to write through 15 years of trying (and finally succeeding!) to get a Master’s degree. I lived to write while getting married and raising two daughters. Now, I live to write at my dream job — combining my degrees and teaching experience in a flexible, innovative way.

As you consider your college journey, I hope you too will be able to take Dr. Caldwell’s advice to heart. Live to write, no matter what form that might take for you.

-Hillary Frazey ’94