Friday, February 26, 2016

UM-Dearborn: The Road Best Traveled

SNAP your fingers…that’s how fast my thirty-year career in R&D seems to have passed, but that’s a good thing, a GREAT thing!  Now in my first year of retirement, I have the opportunity to reflect upon how I got here…what and who were my greatest influencers…and how I can give back! 

At age 18, it is impossible to know where your life will take you and even more difficult to appreciate the significance of your earliest decisions.  For me, as a quiet individual, the thought of attending a large university was daunting; living in a crowded, cookie-cutter dorm room quite frankly, scared me to death.  The appeal of UM-Dearborn was refreshing…a smaller campus, intimate class sizes, excellent faculty with a genuine interest in shaping our LEADERS and BEST, and a MICHIGAN degree!  Although I was accepted in Ann Arbor and at State, my first and in retrospect, my best decision was made…I would attend UM-D!

As a Freshman, I entered UM-D without the slightest inkling that I would become a chemistry major and pursue a philosophy minor, as a matter of fact, I was quite certain that I was destined to be a medical technologist!  So what happened?  CASL happened…and it happened fast!  By the end of my Freshman year, Drs. O’Shea and Potts had inspired me to love chemistry, and Dr. Dutton (Philosophy) had seeded my lifetime love of problem-solving and critical thinking!  I departed on a road that I never knew existed and the opportunities were endless.  I was fascinated by the course work, was able to conduct laboratory research on various topics with five different chemistry faculty members, and worked in the Department of Natural Sciences as a stockroom attendant, lab assistant, and exam grader.  The availability of this “hands-on” experience prepared me well for graduate school, but it was the guidance of Dr. Bertrand and his wife Charla that further propelled me to study under the world renown atomic spectroscopist, Dr. Velmer Fassel, the Assistant Director of the Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University.  You see, Charla had worked for Dr. Fassel, while her husband (Dr. Bertrand) was in graduate school at ISU and she highly recommended Fassel, which gets back to how grateful I am for faculty that truly had my back!  We still exchange Christmas card to this day!

With the foundation that CASL afforded me, how could I help but be anything but successful?  I thoroughly enjoyed my career in R&D for The Dow Chemical Company, Michigan Molecular Institute, Caltech Industries, and most recently, an Associate Research Fellow with The Clorox Company. 

But the story doesn’t end there!  My husband is also an UM-D CASL (and ISU) chemistry graduate and continues to enjoy his career in R&D at The Dow Chemical Company.  We are also very proud that our two boys decided to attend UM-D.  Our oldest graduated in 2014 with a degree Computer Science and Mathematics…he is now employed by a software development company in Troy, MI.  Our youngest is currently a Sophomore, pursuing a degree in Earth Science (Geology) and Anthropology.  We are truly a UM-Dearborn Family!

As for giving back, we have always felt it has been important to provide annual financial support to UM-D.  More recently, I have been a member of the CASL Dean’s Advisory Board.  Being connected to UM-D again has been so refreshing.  Watching my children flourish and grow at UM-Dearborn has been delightful.  Thirty-seven years have passed since I attended UM-D and still, the key elements that attracted me to this university have remained true, 1) a smaller campus, 2) intimate class size, 3) dedicated faculty, and 4) a MICHIGAN degree.  These are elements that truly make UM-D unique in a sea of universities!

I’d be happy to chat more about my experiences at UM-D and can be reached at the e-mail address below.

In the words of the great Robert Frost,

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Kim LaFreniere, Ph.D.
CASL, 1979