Wolverine Stories: Katelyn Hickman

UVU is a place for you to grow, achieve, and to push the boundaries of what you even thought possible.

Katelyn Hickman

Limited Access to Education

I grew up on a rural farm in Missouri in a really insulated community that didn't allow children to be educated past eighth grade. It was a religious community. College was never really in the books for my parents, but it was always in the books for me. I knew since I was a small child that higher education was something that I wanted to pursue.

I don't know that I could tie my early desire to pursue higher education to one particular thing. To be honest, I'm not sure where it came from. I never had any role models, family, or friends that I knew who had a college education. I didn't know anyone who fit into that category. Obviously, you know, through some media like TV shows or movies, I had been exposed to that reality. But it was something that I just knew nothing about.

I think really the ultimate characteristic that has always drawn me to higher education is that I absolutely love to learn. I feel invigorated. You know, when I learn something new that's applicable, I love connecting the dots and understanding how things work and why and what we can do about that. And that's just been an innate curiosity I've had ever since I was a small child.

Katelyn Hickman

Moving Away from Isolation

We moved to Utah about the time I was ready to start seventh [grade]. Through a lot of conversations with my parents, I finally got them to enroll me in school because I wanted to continue my education. In seventh grade, I was introduced to the public school system. I had a lot to learn — a lot of social, emotional, and cultural norms that I wasn't accustomed to.

By the time I graduated high school, I was a Utah resident, which meant that going home for college wouldn't have been realistic because I would have had to pay out-of-state tuition. Being a first-generation student is what led me to UVU.

Finding a Community of First-Gen Students

UVU's tuition was very affordable, and UVU has an open enrollment policy. So, everyone is welcome. I don't know how to articulate how important the absence of that barrier was for me to pursue higher education. Because I didn't even know about financial aid, I had no idea that it was even a thing when I was getting ready to start college. The fact that I didn't have to go through a rigorous application process and write essays and get rejected without any support from my parents. I didn't have a mentor at the time. Those were barriers that would have been significant for me, and UVU didn't make me jump through those hoops.

I do think that it's unique to be a first-generation student. But I don't think it's unique to be a first-generation student at UVU. There's a really broad community. So many of us are the first in our family to be educated past high school and to go on to pursue professional degrees and professional careers. Being a first-generation student [means] that you're not prepared for a lot of the difficulties that come along with college life.

Katelyn Hickman

Receiving Crucial Support at UVU

I spent two years as a full-time student being unhoused. So, I faced housing insecurity. And even after that time, until more recently, have faced food insecurity. And a lot of this was because of mental or emotional challenges that I was facing. And it was really hard for me to figure out how to adjust to this type of lifestyle and to adjust to what, for me at the time, felt like moving to the big city. The Provo-Orem area is the largest place I've ever lived.

People at the Center for Social Impact are very passionate about social issues, and it is housed right next to the care hub. There's a food pantry, food vouchers, and resources to help students with housing throughout campus, and I really benefited from those. UVU provided the support and the help that I needed to get out of that situation. I think that really has been crucial to my success here at UVU.

Katelyn Hickman

Going Back to School With Two Undergrads

I graduated with my first two degrees in 2018. I have a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy, and a Bachelor of Science in integrated studies, where I selected earth science and peace and justice studies as my emphases.

After graduating, I knew I wanted to go to grad school, but going to grad school and philosophy didn't feel right, and I didn't know that I wanted to go to grad school for earth science because a lot of the jobs you get at the end of those degrees weren't appealing to me. So, I decided to take a gap year and explore other options. I worked in similar fields to make sure that I liked the industries I was getting into.

At the end of that gap year, I realized I had graduated in the wrong thing, not to say that integrated studies or philosophy is wrong. I don't regret my decision. I found that all the time that I spent being happy, I was outside identifying insects, fungi, and plants. Learning about ecology and how ecosystems work with human systems, and those things really brought me joy, excitement, and passion. And I realized, “Hey, maybe I should go back to school for biology.”

I took classes in biology and was really enjoying it. But my mentor kind of, you know, gave me this fortuitous hint that, hey, if you want to work in the natural sciences, you need to have computational skills. So, I began to learn how to code, and low and behold, right after that, UVU released the bioinformatics major. That first semester, I switched, and I've never regretted that decision. I absolutely love bioinformatics. I'm in the right field. I'm doing things that I could do for the rest of my life, and I'm glad that I came back to school.

Katelyn Hickman

Applying to MIT

When I was applying to graduate schools, I decided, “Hey, you know, it's probably a really long shot, but I'm already doing all this work for applications. So how about I just make an application for MIT? I’ll submit it. The worst they can say is ‘no.’”

I cannot describe the elation that I felt when I got that email telling me that I was admitted to MIT. And even now, I feel like there might have been a mistake. Things work out sometimes in odd ways. I can't explain it. I just know that there was a point in time when I knew that MIT was not an option for me. And then there was a shift. It became an option, and it was the right option.

Push the Boundaries of What Is Possible

If there's a dream that you want to achieve, it is within your ability to grasp. You just have to prepare yourself and set yourself up in the ways that you need to achieve that goal. I’m so glad that I decided to say no to that fear, imposter syndrome, and this limited idea about what I could do. Because now, here I am, admitted to MIT, about to start this journey that I thought was impossible for me.

UVU is a place for you to grow, achieve, and to push the boundaries of what you even thought possible. And if you're willing to look around, do a little bit of extra work, and be engaged even when you feel tired, those opportunities will present themselves to you.


UVU Biology
UVU Bioinformatics Degree
UVU Center for Social Impact
UVU Care Hub
UVU Housing