Michelle Lavalle ’15
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Michelle Lavalle ’15

Michelle Lavalle ’15

Michelle Lavalle, an honors student and a senior majoring in biology, is not wasting a minute of her senior year. When she is not studying, serving in one of several leadership roles in her Phi Mu Fraternity, or volunteering for community organizations, Lavalle is busy working in Professor Jake Harney’s lab, examining the relationship between diet and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. In April, Lavalle will travel with five other A&S students to Eastern Washington University to present her research findings at the 29th Annual National Council on Undergraduate Research.

Lavalle arrived at the University of Hartford in fall of 2011 after deciding that she wanted to attend a university where faculty members would know her name. It didn’t take long for Lavalle to make a positive impression on the faculty in A&S. In the spring semester of her freshmen year, Professor Don Jones invited Lavalle to join the honors program, where she has thrived in its small classes and taken full advantage of the opportunity it provides to work closely with faculty.

During her four years in the College, a number of faculty, including Jake Harney (biology) and Eric Mahan (chemistry), have mentored Lavalle. She reports that Harney, her research supervisor, “keeps me on my toes and has been a role model since freshman year.” Lavalle credits Mahan, her advisor and chair of the pre-med advisory committee, with helping her stay on track as she works toward her goal of attending medical school. Mahan says of Lavalle, “I have always been impressed with Michelle's ambition and determination. Even as a first-year student, she was adept at identifying her goals and needs and then making a plan to reach them. Her confidence and motivation make her a great model for other students hoping to pursue a career in science and medicine.”

Lavalle attributes much of her academic success and drive to the work ethic, care, and support modeled by her parents and her grandfather. Lavalle’s father has worked six days a week since he was 16 years old, going to school at night to earn certifications for his job while raising a family and thereby teaching her about the value of hard work and perseverance. Lavalle’s mom has been a constant source of support and encouragement through the ups and downs of adolescence. Lavalle’s grandfather was the family patriarch who supported Lavalle’s private school education and participation in summer camp. When he died of brain cancer in 2000, Lavalle was determined to pursue a career in medicine.

This year Lavalle was named the first recipient of the Barbara Cooke MBA ’96 Endowed Scholarship, which is given to a junior or senior with high academic achievement who is majoring in a STEM field. Lavalle has been named to the Dean’s and President’s lists every semester since she enrolled at the University. In addition to her excellent academic record, Lavalle serves as recruitment and membership chair, chair of service hours, and assistant pledge mom of Phi Mu. Lavalle credits Phi Mu with helping her maintain balance in her life and providing her with a network of supportive peers and a range of leadership and community service opportunities. Her involvement in Phi Mu has also honed her communication and organization skills.

When Lavalle is not studying or hard at work for her sorority, she enjoys reading and hanging out with her friends. Asked if she has any advice for younger students, Lavalle has this to say: “A crucial part of the college experience is your connection with faculty. You can’t get as far by yourself. Start getting to know faculty early and take advantage of every opportunity to work with them. Let the faculty members serve as inspirational figures and never lose sight of your goals.”