During their college years, many students have opportunities to expand their horizons. This spring, one such student, Brennan Neal ’14, will graduate and move on to graduate school. Neal, a biology major with a dual focus on organismal and ecological biology, has gotten involved in a significant number of extracurricular activities and has truly experienced a full college life.
Hailing from nearby Hershey, Neal initially didn’t consider Messiah College because he felt it was too close to home. But once he did apply and visit the campus, he said, “It just felt right.” At the same time, other doors were closed when Neal was denied acceptance at two other colleges he was seriously considering. Then Messiah contacted him wondering if he would like to interview for a scholarship. Neal made his decision and enrolled in fall 2010.
Neal hoped to be a doctor someday and originally intended to major in molecular biology. Part of the reason he chose molecular biology was because he simply wasn’t interested in plant and animal courses required of more general biology majors. It was the input of one of his teachers, Erik Lindquist, professor of biology and environmental science, that got Neal interested in the classes that he once thought he disliked. After travelling to Panama with Lindquist on a cross cultural trip, Neal’s perspective on his major changed. He now understood better what organismal and ecological biology really was and decided that pursuing biology was “a lot more aligned with my passions than being a doctor.”
Neal’s intercultural experiences only began with Panama. That same summer, he also spent time in Costa Rica and ToroToro, Bolivia. Sponsored through the Agape Center, the trip was designed to boost eco-tourism through such activities as camping, hiking and bird watching. Neal worked with an organization called Food for the Hungry to help people “become involved with nature in a way that is beneficial for the community.” Neal’s group wanted the native culture to impact them and everyone coming after them rather than just bringing western culture to that area. He spent time engaging in outdoor activities and when he was finished, Neal, along with the other group leaders, wrote a report and gave it to Food for the Hungry to help them improve their program.
Neal also works hard on campus. He began as a work-study student in the admissions office during his first semester. He did campus tours and spoke several times at open houses. In addition, he served as an ambassador for the College’s biology department and spoke to prospective students about his experiences. During his second semester, Neal was interviewed for a position on Eyas, the student alumni council, and was accepted. By spring of his junior year, he moved into the position of Eyas chair. As chair, Neal organizes and plans all of the events that Eyas holds, plans the biweekly meetings of the council itself, manages the budget and represents the council at important events such as the Alumni Council. He says, “When I first started, I had a really hard time balancing work, academic and social life” and had to learn where to draw the line between the different aspects of college life.
Brittany Claridge, Eyas advisor, spoke highly of Neal’s abilities as chair. “Brennan has been incredibly diligent not only with his required commitments, but [he has] also does an amazing job balancing his countless roles as chair, ambassador, honors research student, TA and more,” says Claridge. “It has been a true honor to work with Brennan and watch him continue to grow into the amazing leader he is today.”
Neal has many fond memories of his time at Messiah. Highlights include his trip to Bolivia and many of his classes such as “The Writings of the Inklings” during which he studied the works of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and really learned a lot about his faith. He has also thoroughly enjoyed being a teaching assistant for the lower level biology courses and even had a hand in developing some of the newer practicum for one of the classes.
When he graduates, Neal said that he will really miss “the community that I have built here.” He has discovered some of his closest friends while at Messiah and graduating will be like “leaving a family.” Neal has also forged many close relationships with his professors and will miss the interactions he has had with them.
Looking to the future
Neal added, “I am looking forward to see how my faith is tested” outside of college. He is applying to graduate programs and hopes to obtain a PhD in either zoology or animal behavior. Eventually Neal wants to become a professor at the university level.
Story by Jeremy Ross ’16. Photos by Megan Dobinson `16.