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'IU Kokomo truly became a part of me': Junior Benjamin Catt shares his student experience

Oct. 10, 2012

IU Kokomo junior Benjamin Catt is a full-time student and president of the Science, Mathematics and Informatics Club. He's also a tutor for students of 200-level physics, a local restaurant cook and an active volunteer. Since the spring of 2010, he has worked as an assistant coach for a boys' track and field team for Northwestern School Corp., and each Friday morning and afternoon, Catt volunteers at the Indianapolis Zoo in the Flights of Fancy exhibit area.

Benjamin Catt in a lab at IU Kokomo

Benjamin Catt, IU Kokomo

"Being here is a meaningful experience," Catt said. "At this campus, it’s hard to blend in; it’s hard to simply show up, listen and leave. It may seem cliché, but I didn’t just become a part of this campus.  Whether I wanted it or not, IU Kokomo truly became a part of me."

Catt is studying for the MCAT, which he'll take next summer, with the hope of possibly enrolling in the IU School of Medicine. He'll also take the GRE next summer and will apply for the IU Master of Science program for cellular and integrative physiology. In an interview with Inside IU, he describes his motivation to stay so involved on and off campus, what he loves about student life and what led him to his passion: the biology of the human body.

Inside IU: How did you choose IU Kokomo?
Benjamin Catt: Multiple relatives of mine attended IU Kokomo before attending other schools, including my mother and grandfather. My first semester, I enrolled as a mathematics major with the intention of transferring into an architecture program at another university. During that time, I couldn’t find in myself the passion that is necessary to be successful in college. I opted not to attend the following spring. After a long intermission and the budding of what has since grown into a passion for my studies, I re-enrolled with the intention of earning a degree pertaining to (human) bodily functions.

Q: What’s your favorite aspect of being at IU Kokomo?
A: I recall people telling me, “The first year is the same no matter where you go.” I wasn’t directly paying for my tuition, but it seemed sensible to attend a school that would not burden my financial future. At IU Kokomo, students earn an Indiana University degree at trade-school costs.

Prices aside, the personal attention and relationships with campus faculty and students are second to none. When I’m walking through corridors, I almost always find myself stopping and talking with someone I know, if not multiple people. All my professors know me by name; I am on a first-name basis with my advisor and multiple faculty members. As all my professors would attest, if ever I have a question or some down time, I go knocking at doors. ... I’m always greeted pleasantly and unhurriedly.

Q: What drew you into your field of study?
A: In high school, I was consumed by exercise and nutrition. I have been doing exercise training and planning with my peers since then. In taking the entry-level biology course at IU Kokomo, I became addicted to the idea of knowing the interworking of one of the most complex machineries in the world: the mammalian anatomy. There are many people in this country studying different details of the same subjects. Endocrinologists and personal trainers both study hormones and their effects on the body. I felt an intellectual obligation to do more than plan workout and eating regimens. I knew, by the second week of Intro Bio, I wanted to study humans in the highest degree of detail.

Q: In what classes are you currently enrolled?
A: I am currently taking Organic Chemistry I and Organic Chemistry Lab I with J.C. Olsen; Principles of Immunology with Christian Chauret; Cellular Physiology with Michael Finkler; and a
one-credit individual study theoretical astrophysics.

Q: Describe one of your current projects.
A: My research is aided by Patrick Motl. We're aiming to model a relatively simple simulation of the distortion of planets near the event horizons of black holes. Our overall goal is to simulate theoretical nuclear fusion in ellipsoidal -- as caused by black hole gravitation -- systems of mass. In the upcoming semesters, I am seeking to explore the correlation between blood glucose density, exercise intensity and body fat percentages.

Q: Describe the Science, Mathematics and Informatics Club, and your responsibilities as co-president of the club.

A: The Science, Mathematics and Informatics Club is an organization that participates in community service projects, aids students in degree- and career-based decisions, and encourages student-student and student-faculty familiarities within the IU Kokomo Department of Sciences. I am a co-president with Kasey S. High, who has been my good friend since last year. She is an unseen force in this club. Many of our conversations begin with her saying, “We need to ...” I'm the more proactive, get-it-done officer.

Much of my time is spent “wheeling and dealing,” bugging faculty and professionals about coming to speak to the club or discussing potential club activities. I truly feel the span of my reach is unlimited. It is my responsibility to represent the Department of Science. I do everything in that motif: I befriend as many students as possible. I sit front and center in each of my classes and try to stimulate discussions when possible. I check with many professors and ask how their semesters are going. I also offer my knowledge/assistance to any students struggling in classes I have already taken.

Q: What are some activities you and the SMI Club will be doing this year?
A: We are hosting guest lectures by faculty and community professionals every few weeks until the summer of 2013. About that, we are adamant. As upperclassmen, we are familiar with uncertainties that plague undergraduate academic careers. Visitors can discuss what they do and where they are now, but we stress that they emphasize they were once indecisive, imperfect students, as are we. In addition, I want students to know their professors as I know mine: on a personal level, rather than as an elite vehicle of knowledge. Hearing the stories of faculty members facilitates such relationships.

Our fall projects include cleaning the Wildcat Creek, visiting local high schools to promote studies in science and participating in the Halloween open house at IU Kokomo. In the spring, we'll paint a mural in cooperation with the Kokomo Art Association to promote the department, do another creek cleaning and take trips to a science museum and a chemical company.

Q: What have been your most meaningful experiences at IU Kokomo?
A: I cannot pinpoint one moment as being the most meaningful. Being here is a meaningful experience.  As a teen, I began this journey without a care in the world, but I have been taught skills that will carry me onward in life. Each instance in which a professor has entertained my questions or comments on a subject matter has made a lasting difference in my being. At this campus, it’s hard to blend in; it’s hard to simply show up, listen and leave. It may seem cliché, but I didn’t just become a part of this campus. ... Whether I wanted it or not, IU Kokomo truly became a part of me.

Q: Which professors have had the greatest impact on you and why?
A: In my freshman classes, David Brewster, faculty advisor, and Christina Downey, assistant professor of psychology, were the most influential. In discussions in both of their classes, there were underlying introspective paradigms. When I was undecided on what academic path to follow, their lectures helped me greatly.

Since then, I have been influenced by Patrick Motl (assistant professor of physics) and Lina Rifai (assistant professor of vertebrate biology). They both are gifted and knowledgeable lecturers who are also quirky and youthful. They unknowingly offered insights into my undergrad career. Seeing a sense of youth in faculty has eased coping with the idea of moving past undergraduate studies.

I am taking classes with Michael Finkler (associate professor of biology) and Christian Chauret (associate dean, School of Arts and Sciences), each for the first time. From their classes, I am gaining a significant amount of knowledge and an ever-growing desire to learn more.

Lastly, Catherine Barnes -- my academic advisor -- has really pushed me along in my journey. For those who know her, it’s obvious she is unique in the initiative she takes. When you go into her office, she offers full-throttle advice. She knows me, and I am incredibly grateful for her advisement.

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