Cecilia Douma '16

Striking a Balance

Cecilia wanted to play soccer in college and Division III schools seemed to offer the right mix. “It was important for me to find someplace where I was respected and supported as both a student and an athlete,” she says. “Luther checked all those boxes and more. I was able to stay active in music, had the flexibility to study abroad, and instantly felt comfortable on campus.”

Skills Beyond Her Major

“I think the most important skill I developed as a chemistry major was the ability to learn quickly and independently,” she says.

Cecilia’s first job after graduation was in a field that was almost entirely new to her. “I relied much more on the skills I learned through my chemistry training than on the content of my classes,” she says. “Studying chemistry at Luther, prepared me to write effectively, work efficiently, and solve problems on my own.”

Soccer Plays a Key Role

“The opportunity I value the most from my college experience actually wasn’t an academic one. It was soccer,” Cecilia says. “My four years as an outside back undoubtedly made me a stronger chemist.”

She found that when classes got challenging, soccer kept her grounded and helped to put academic pressures in perspective. “I learned to value myself as a whole person with skills in many different contexts. A tough day in the classroom could always turn into a great day on the field, or vice versa,” she says. “Soccer taught me resilience—how to struggle, fail, and keep moving forward.” She also found that it taught her discipline, not only in working hard but also in giving herself time to recover.

“Soccer gave me a group of teammates and coaches who were my support network for four years,” she says. “It made me happy day in and day out, even when my schoolwork was at peak intensity.”

Research and Branching Out

Cecilia recommends that those who graduate with a chemistry major should expect a strong emphasis on research when entering the job market or applying to graduate school. 

“There are research opportunities for students available at Luther and at other institutions,” she says. “I spent two summers working in research labs at the University of South Dakota. I found that summer research provides the chance to meet new people, visit new places, and explore topics that you may not be exposed to through coursework alone.”

Cecilia reminds students that your undergraduate experience should be about more than just classes and research. She says, “Take advantage of opportunities to study outside your major, compete in your favorite sport, find creative or musical outlets, develop friendships, and just enjoy the experience.”

A Notable Career Path

During her senior year at Luther, Cecilia knew that she ultimately wanted to go to graduate school, but didn’t feel like she refined her research interests enough to choose the right program. “Instead of going directly to grad school, I worked for two years at Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT) in Coralville, Iowa,” she says. “The company synthesizes oligonucleotides that are used as reagents in many different scientific applications. In my role, I answered questions about those oligonucleotide products from customers around the world. It was a meaningful and interesting job that has certainly influenced my personal research interests.”

Cecilia is now a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. Her current work in bioanalytical chemistry relies heavily on the oligonucleotide products she supported when she worked at IDT. She says, “Taking time to work in industry after graduation helped me explore my interests and exposed me to careers I might not have otherwise considered.”

Appreciation for the Luther Community

Cecilia says that the Luther experience she’s most thankful for today can’t be distilled into a single moment, activity, or event. “It was the cumulative experience of being part of the Luther community for four years that shaped who I am and how I interact with my world,” she says.  “Because Luther is a tight-knit, residential college, I had the opportunity to see my peers in many different contexts. I took classes with my teammates, watched my lab partners perform in shows and concerts, and worked the Sunday morning cafeteria shift with future club presidents. Eventually, I got to see everyone at their best. With this experience in mind, I find it much easier to treat people with patience and respect in my daily life.”

Work-Study Experience

Cecilia worked in the cafeteria for a year and spent three years as the women’s soccer student worker. “The latter wound up being a creative outlet for me and a diversion from classes and homework.”

—Cecilia Douma