“Don't Think the Only Outcome is You in a White Coat Stuffed in a Lab!”
The epiphany came during his first semester in college, in the middle of his philosophy class’ final exam. When it hit him, Jordan Knapp-Wilson, class of ’19, got up from his chair, picked up his exam, crumbled it, and threw it in the trash on his way out of class. He got in his 1981 VW Vanagon and drove until he ran out of gas. “I ended up somewhere in Utah,” he laughed. At that point in his life, Jordan didn’t know what he wanted to study in college; what he knew for sure was, “I wasn’t going to find my passion by just taking classes and going through the motions of getting an undergrad degree.”
For the next 2.5 years, Jordan worked and saved money, traveled, then came back to Tucson and worked until he could fund another trip. He traveled to Japan and Mexico, and was drawn to the people, the culture and the outdoors. He spent many hours wandering in parks, discovering new plants, animals and geographies. “I felt calm and at peace in the parks and forests,” Jordan discovered through his time in nature. He also loved learning the culture of the places he traveled and meeting new people. Jordan had always loved science and his travels solidified that love of science and nature – especially plants. After working and traveling for a couple years, Jordan knew then what he wanted to do - “I knew then that I wanted to help people and the planet.”
With his career goals more solidified, he went back to college with a focus and a plan. He enrolled in Pima Community College and received his AA degree in 2016, and came back to the UA in September 2016, this time as a junior. Jordan is pursuing a dual major in Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) and Plant and Life Sciences (PLS) with a minor in Biochemistry. Long term, Jordan wants to specialize in discovering ways to grow more sustainable crops and work with low income people to help grow foods more efficiently. When asked why he chose MCB and PLS he said, “A lot of the advancement in crop production and feeding the population will come from small incremental changes and improvements over time and molecular biology will be central to those improvements; I want to be a part of that.” When asked why an incoming student might consider a degree in science, he said, “A degree in MCB is so thorough in terms of the knowledge and broad coverage you gain. You can get a job in a plant science field, go to vet school, med school, be an entrepreneur, or work in high tech. Having a degree in MCB and PLS is a cornerstone; you can build many other things on to those.” Jordan added this advice to high school students, “A lot of people are wary of the cost of college. A STEM education is worth your time and money and is a great overall investment. A science degree opens you up to go anywhere. If you are thinking about coming to UA and getting a degree in science- don't think the only outcome is you in a white coat stuffed in a lab. There is room for you to get out and be in the public. There is field work, travel, PR, communications; with a STEM degree, your options are wide open!”
His best experiences at the UA have been meeting people with similar stories to him, and working in the lab doing research. “I thought I would feel out of place being an older student, but I found it’s not uncommon to have a path similar to mine. MCB has been very inviting and welcoming and it’s been great meeting people from all walks of life.” He also loves his job in the Beilstein Lab. Jordan joined the lab in spring of 2017 and has been involved in raising transformed glycophyte and halophyte plants, such as Arabidopsis thaliana and Eutrema salsugineum, and observing their respective stress responses. The goal of this project is to observe and identify lncRNA involved in this stress response. Outside of his science courses, Jordan has enjoyed his history and art history courses. “I’ve always liked history. Once you know the history of a place or culture you understand it more when you travel there. It makes other cultures seem less different when you travel there and things easier to understand.”
With graduation just 6 months away, Jordan has been applying to grad schools. He wants to continue his studies in plant science with a focus on studying how crops can increase their yields and be more sustainable with the end goal of eliminating food insecurity.
Jordan is busy these days juggling 19 units and working in the lab, as well as a waiter at Kingfisher Restaurant but he still finds time for his interests, including hiking, backpacking, camping, demostrating gardening can be done in small spaces and playing online video games. Travel safe, Jordan, the world is waiting for you!