Teaching & Learning

Statewide Campuses Help Prepare Students for Postgraduate Success

By Marcus Jensen |

USU Uintah Basin student Makenzie Holmes works in the labs at the Bingham Research Center. Holmes had opportunities for internships, research and one-on-one mentorship with professors, including Bingham Center Director Seth Lyman. With a strong undergraduate résumé full of diverse activity and experience, Holmes was accepted to the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at the University of Utah.

While Utah State University Statewide Campuses have been seen by many as a way to stay close to home while also earning a technical or undergraduate degree, USU Statewide Campuses are also able to prepare students for graduate school.

“As the degree granting institution in northeastern Utah, we are proud of our graduates who are well prepared for graduate studies and careers,” said James Y. Taylor, Associate Vice President. “We are equally pleased that many choose to give back to our region by returning as critical members of our professional workforce.”

The following sections will tell the stories of several students at USU Uintah Basin who have gone on to be accepted to graduate school. With the small class sizes and a personalized attention, these students were able to find the opportunities, confidence and mentorship they needed to thrive in their undergraduate career and offer an intriguing résumé that allowed them to further their academic pursuits.

Finding Opportunities – Bailee Bird

Bailee Bird always had a fascination with the human body and had the dream of going to medical school in some capacity. With her husband holding a job in the Uintah Basin region, Bird decided to pursue her undergraduate degree at USU Uintah Basin. While initially hesitant to begin her college career on a small campus while preparing for the competitive application process for physician assistant school, Bird grew to realize USU Uintah Basin was the right place for her.

“As I started coming to a statewide campus, I feel like it has made me much more of a competitive applicant and I have had so many more opportunities here than I would have at a larger campus,” Bird said. “I was able to jump right in on research with professors and I got a really diverse introduction into research; I was able to do a little chemistry, a little neural biology, a little microbiology and a little genetics.”

Bird was also able to have opportunities in student leadership in addition to research opportunities. She served in USU Uintah Basin’s student government for four years, creating connections in the community and working with leaders on campus. With this diverse experience, Bird feels her application to graduate school got a boost.

“Being here allowed me the ability to develop interprofessional relationships with people throughout the community and to involve them in my schooling, student government or learning opportunities or things to benefit my résumé,” Bird said. “I got a lot of compliments on my application on how diverse it was.”

Bird graduated in fall 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in Human Biology with a minor in Chemistry and has been working at UB Tech as the program director in the surgical technology program. She has been accepted to the University of Utah’s physician’s assistant graduate program. The program will take about two years to complete, after which Bird hopes to return to the Uintah Basin and serve the community as a healthcare provider.

Finding Mentorship and Confidence – Makenzie Holmes

Makenzie Holmes began her college career at USU Uintah Basin as a shy student who was not sure about the path she initially wanted to take when entering college. She began in nursing at a technical college, then switched to the biology program at USU Uintah Basin. She then switched back to nursing, and is set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Registered Nursing in spring 2022. It was in her biology courses that Holmes began to find her path.

While in a biology class one day, Holmes was called up by her professor, Charles Hanifin, after class one day. Hanafin told Holmes about an internship opportunity and encouraged Holmes to apply. Unsure of the opportunity and her abilities, Holmes warily applied.

“I applied, but with a low self-esteem, thinking there was no way I could do it,” Holmes recalled. “I didn’t have much confidence. But I applied and was accepted into the program. I did that over the summer, doing some biology and genetics research in the lab. I really loved it!”

Finding a love for research, Holmes continued on this path, applying to work with Seth Lyman, research associate professor and director of the Bingham Research Center. Lyman sat down with Holmes and asked her what she wanted to get out of their time together. She said she wanted to learn how to better read and understand peer-reviewed research, be able to publish a paper and to have research experience.

“As an undergraduate, I was able to publish a paper as a second author, I presented my research on Capitol Hill, I presented at a bunch of undergraduate research conferences,” Holmes said. “I did so while working one-on-one with my professors. I had a lot of opportunities to be involved in much more hands-on research than I would have if I were at a larger campus.”

Holmes was able to find opportunities to further her academic learning and experience, but she also credits her interactions with Lyman as something that helped her grow as an individual.

“When I started going to college here, I kind of felt like a wandering lost puppy a little bit,” she said. “I was unsure of what my next steps were going to be or how I should do things. And having the stability of Dr. Lyman was everything. He listened to me a lot and gave me options. He was very invested in developing me as a student but also helping me develop as a person.”

With her newfound confidence in tow, Holmes will head to the University of Utah to enter their Doctor of Nursing Practice program. She hopes to return to the Uintah Basin after finishing the program and to work with the university to teach and develop future healthcare students, be a mentor herself, and also open a clinic of her own.

Following Their Passion — Kelly Bjerke and Kolby Lance

Kelly Bjerke grew up in the Vernal area and always had a love for livestock and the ranching and farming lifestyle. He decided he wanted to be a veterinarian and started taking concurrent enrollment classes while still in high school. He transferred these credits to USU Uintah Basin and began the Integrated Studies program. Bjerke was excited to start his college career close to home while still receiving a quality education.

“I like that Utah State is bringing education to home,” Bjerke said. “I was able to stay at home and save on rent and still get the classes I needed for veterinary school. It was a close-knit community where you got more personalized attention, and I liked that.”

As Bjerke started classes, he always felt the quality of education he received was second-to-none and always enjoyed the small class sizes he was able to have at USU.

“Because I went to the statewide campus, I was able to have a more personal interaction with professors that allowed me to learn how to interact with professionals,” he said. “The close relationships I had with the professors helped me to advance my learning.”

Bjerke went on to apply and is currently attending veterinary school. He credits his time at USU Uintah Basin as being vital to him being able to be accepted to graduate school.

“I was able to get the help I needed to succeed, and that was a large part of what made me a successful applicant in applying to veterinary school,” he said. “My mentors helped me become competitive and develop the skills I need for the next chapter, which is where I find myself now.”

Bjerke hopes to return to the Vernal area and open a veterinary clinic.

Kolby Lance started his academic career at USU Uintah Basin by taking concurrent enrollment courses while still in high school.

“I was able to complete most of my general education courses before I graduated from Uintah High,” Lance said.

Lance earned his associate degree and entered the Integrated Studies program. In this program, he worked with mentors like Mike Christiansen and Lianna Etchberger. Lance particularly enjoyed being able to work so closely with instructors, and the fact that they even became friends.

“I enjoyed the small class sizes and personal attention I got at USU,” Lance said. “I attribute much of my success to the caring, personalized instruction I received at USU Uintah Basin.”

With his mentoring and hard work, Lance scored high marks on his Dental Admissions Test and was admitted into the Missouri School of Dentistry and Oral Health. He continued to thrive and earned his Doctor of Dental Medicine degree. Lance would go on to be admitted to NYU Langone for its specialty program in pediatric dentistry. Lance now practices pediatric dentistry in Vernal.

Utah State University’s Statewide Campuses create impact by bettering the lives of the people and places they serve. From career and technical certificates to doctorate degrees, USU offers programs that help fuel local economies and empower individuals and their communities. With multiple locations across 85,000 square miles, USU can be the hometown university to anyone, no matter where they live. Learn more at statewide.usu.edu.

USU Uintah Basin student Kolby Lance poses at his dental office with one of his favorite patients — his son Rowan. Lance credits his time at USU statewide campuses as key to his success in applying to and being accepted to dental school.


Marcus Jensen
News Coordinator
University Marketing and Communications


Dana Rhoades
University Marketing and Communications


Statewide Campuses 358stories

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