You know that feeling you get when you look around and realize you’re just where you should be? That’s the feeling that Ailish Stein had when she visited Ohio University for a tour as a high school student. She came for campus visit because her father was a Bobcat. She chose OHIO because she liked what she saw.
“I went on a tour and I loved it,” she said. The senior from Kettering, Ohio will earn her bachelor’s degree from University College in specialized studies with a focus in biostatistics, which incorporates math, interdisciplinary health studies, and biological sciences. Stein describes biostatistics as a public health program since it is a field where statistics and biomedical data are applied to problems of human health and disease, with the goal of improving public health. Stein was accepted into several graduate programs and when she graduates this spring, she’ll be taking her OHIO education to the University of South Carolina to pursue a master’s degree in biostatistics.
Though she started her college career as a pre-veterinary medicine major, Stein decided that major was not the right fit for her. She struggled with her upper-level biological sciences courses but excelled in math and knew she wanted to do something with biology in the medical field. After nearly 150 hours of research, she landed on the area of biostatistics and set about designing her unique specialized studies degree.
“I wanted to ensure that I would be getting in somewhere for grad school since I have always wanted to go on to grad school,” Stein said. “I love learning. Getting into grad school was the biggest highlight of my undergraduate career.”
Stein seeks to help overcome underrepresentation of women in STEM. She knows from experience that obstacles are temporary. After leaving an unhealthy relationship in her first year at OHIO she began the work of designing her own major. Though she struggled with some of her courses she found supportive professors and staff who have helped guide her along the path to degree completion and in her graduate school search.
A biostatistics class with Dr. Rebecca Snell, an assistant professor of environmental and plant biology, helped Stein find her passion and her focus. “That was the moment when I knew this is exactly what I wanted to do,” she said. “That class was wonderful, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about biostatistics.”
She also appreciated the help of faculty in the math department and named Dr. Vardges Melkonian, an associate professor of mathematics, as an influential professor. “He is the best professor I’ve ever had,” she said. “His were the first math classes where I felt like I could talk to my professor about any issue I was having. He spent time making sure everyone had the opportunity to succeed and nobody was left behind. I hope to be half the professor that he is.”
In addition to the professors who made an impact, Stein said she appreciated support from the Career and Leadership Development Center where staff helped her as she worked on the personal statement and curriculum vitae (CV) needed for graduate school applications.
With an interest in infectious disease, Stein expects to be working with COVID-19 data as a graduate student and she looks forward to supporting, through her research, the work of people who are helping on the front lines to advance public health. She plans to work in academia after earning her graduate degrees.
Stein encourages other students who are considering the bachelor of specialized studies degree to follow their passions. “Do whatever you want because in the end you will be the person who has the degree,” she said. “It’s unique. You get the pleasure of explaining what that is. Make sure that you create something that you’re passionate about.”
While Stein has focused on math and science in preparation for graduate school, she has also found the time for a theater minor which allowed her to shift gears, flex her creative muscles, and satisfy her fine arts requirement. She has also enjoyed supporting other students while learning more about diversity and inclusion in her role as a resident advisor (RA). “I have learned to work with people from many countries and cultures which is probably one of the best experiences being an RA,” said Stein.
As her time in Athens draws to a close, Stein will forever remember her OHIO journey. “Being a Bobcat means that you are always willing to help fellow Bobcats,” she said. “I am very thankful to be a Bobcat and I’ve had a great four years here.”