Lydia Bienlien

When Lydia Bienlien 2013 came to Morningside College, she knew she wanted to major in biology, so she figured she would end up working in a medical field. It was at Morningside that she realized what she really wanted to do for a career.

Lydia had regular chats with John Reynders, the president at Morningside College. He encouraged her to apply for internships, as did her biology professors. Lydia applied and was chosen for two paid summer internships. The first one was a medical research internship the summer before her junior year.

"It was over that summer that I realized I did not want to do anything medical at all," she said.

Lydia had enjoyed the marine microbiology research project she had done at Morningside, so next she applied and was selected for an internship at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

"It was over that summer that I was like, 'Wow, this is exactly what I want to do,' " she said. "I'd always loved the water, and I just kind of reconnected with that over the summer. So it was at the beginning of my senior year that I really started looking into graduate programs in marine science or oceanography."

Lydia was accepted into every graduate program where she applied. She decided to return to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The highly selective program offered Lydia a graduate assistantship that paid all tuition costs plus a living stipend.

"A lot of people can have really good grades, and a lot of people can have a lot of athletic and academic achievements," she said. "But when you add on that third level of doing different internships, I think those three together really helped me get where I wanted to go."