CEDAR CITY — Dancer, counselor, tutor, leader, researcher, student. These are only a few of the roles Alex Nielson has embraced during her time at Southern Utah University, and most recently, she can add “valedictorian” to her list of academic triumphs. Nielson will represent the university as an example of hard work and dedication during her recognition at the Southern Utah University Commencement April 30 in the Centrum Arena.
The 22-year-old from Holladay, Utah, has earned a 4.0 GPA, spending countless hours working toward superior achievement as a biology major and chemistry minor. Through her efforts, Nielson said she has learned the priceless principle of self-motivation.
“You have to be self-motivated in college,” Nielson said. “It was hard when friends would go out and I’d have homework due or tests on Monday, but it’s so worth it to look back and see how much I’ve achieved.”
Nielson’s collegiate career didn’t begin at Southern Utah University. She actually started college at a much larger institution. Referring to her general chemistry course there, she said she felt like her professor was unreachable for the students. Nielson said:
The professor was teaching 900 kids so there was no opportunity to go speak with him. When I heard about SUU, smaller class sizes and the opportunity of working closely with my professors, I made my decision to switch. People actually know my name here and care about my future studies.
After transferring to Southern Utah University, Nielson found her chemistry professor to be much more accessible and responsive.
Professor Ty Redd, Nielson’s organic chemistry teacher and mentor, has high expectations for his students and does his best to make 8 a.m. classes funny and interactive.
“Alex is an excellent student with great work ethic, stamina, drive and motivation,” Redd said. “She is meticulous with excellent study habits, intellectually independent and creative. Oh yes, and giggly!”
In the Nielson household, medical practice is the family business. Her father is a working OB/GYN, her mother a registered nurse and her sister a recent graduate of nursing school. With good examples surrounding her, Nielson developed a love for medicine and a drive to serve others.
Inspired by two trips she has taken to Nicaragua with Southern Utah University’s Rural Health Scholars, Nielson hopes to lead her own medical missions once she is a practicing medical professional. Whitney Johnson, program coordinator for the Utah Center for Rural Health, has worked with Nielson on these two alternative spring breaks and said she has nothing but good things to say of this future doctor.
“Alex has taken on a highly rigorous coursework in her preparation for medical school and kept exceptional grades throughout her academic career,” says Johnson. “She has balanced school, community service, and extracurricular work with the utmost precision and deserves to be recognized for that accomplishment.”
“Alex has not only reached her goals,” Johnson continued, “she has crushed them. She has come one step closer to realizing her dreams.”
Nielson’s mother was fond of telling her daughter that hard work would pay off. Although Alex Nielson has worked hard her entire life — at dance, school and jobs — she says she has only recently seen this concept coming to fruition.
“I never believed my mom growing up,” she said. “Then I got the call this spring saying I had been accepted to the University of Utah School of Medicine – my life dream – and I realized all my hard work is paying off.”
During her undergraduate education, Nielson has danced with the Waukeenyans, tutored for multiple subjects, helped at Camp Kesem as a summer counselor, volunteered at Valley View Medical Center and traveled with Rural Health Scholars. She has made the most of the opportunities Southern Utah University offers, and the university is proud to claim her as a Thunderbird.
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