By Laura Wiersema ’18
Everything is bigger in Texas, but for some that’s not always ideal. Walker Mask ’17 grew up in Rockwall, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, and he attended a very large high school. When it came to his college choice, however, he went for the other end of the spectrum.
“Initially I had chosen Simpson because it was out-of-state and extremely smaller than my high school, as well as having opportunities for biochemistry research,” he said. “I was most surprised about the community of students and how easy it was to really get to know my professors.”
With a biochemistry degree, Mask planned to join a group like the Peace Corps to help communities in Central and Latin America improve their medical practice. But it was research, not biochemistry, that most intrigued him.
At Simpson, Mask could be found frequently in the labs or crunching numbers, sometimes cutting it close to his deadlines. During Undergraduate Research Symposium his junior year, he was still in the lab running the final test for his research project, which he needed to present that day.
“Even after working almost all night, I still didn’t get my physical results until about 10 minutes before I was supposed to present,” he said. “It was an anxious experience, but that’s just how research goes sometimes.”
The result was clear: Mask had found his passion, something he wanted to continue to do for the rest of his life. Eager to see what more he could do, he prepared to apply for graduate school during his junior year, graduating from Simpson a year early.
But Mask didn’t feel prepared. He wasn’t organized. He was worried about graduating early. That’s when a professor cared enough to have an honest conversation with him.
“(Department Chair of Religion) Jan Everhart convinced me not to graduate early, and if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have gotten accepted to grad school,” he said.
So he slowed down, took his time and grabbed every research opportunity he could manage. When he applied to graduate schools this time, he would be ready.
“I knew from the beginning that the edge I needed was to prove that I want to spend my post-college professional career doing research and that I’m serious about this decision, so I spent as much time as I could doing research, learning about how to do research, and working on as many projects as I could within the next year,” he said.
When Mask applied to graduate schools during his senior year, he was equipped with a solid resume, strong recommendation letters from his professors and the knowledge of how to craft his application. When he received an offer from the University of Kentucky, he knew it was the right choice.
“Getting the acceptance to Kentucky was really what I consider my success at Simpson,” he said. “In grad school I will be doing theoretical chemistry and its applications with physical chemistry and materials chemistry.”
Sure, he could have graduated early, but that’s not Mask’s story. Maybe it’s someone else’s. That’s the great thing about Simpson. As Mask said, “Simpson can really be whatever you want to make of it.”