May 17, 2018

From Cameroon to Superior, Maryelle Nyeck finds her path

Nyeck embarked on an adventure sparked by her aunt and cousins, all of whom are UW-Superior alumni

College is challenging for anyone, but imagine what it would be like if you’d only started to learn the English language a mere five months before enrolling. That was the case for Maryelle Nyeck (’18 Chemistry) when she was an incoming freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Maryelle grew up in Cameroon, Africa, where the native language is French. After earning her high school diploma, she decided to embark on an adventure sparked by her aunt and five cousins, all of whom are UW-Superior alumni. They told her about their experiences at the University, and though she’d never visited the campus and didn’t speak a word of English, she knew it was the place for her.

Maryelle packed her bags, said goodbye to her parents and one of her two siblings left at home, and flew more than 6,600 miles, only to be greeted by frigid temperatures and a frozen white substance covering the ground that she had never seen before. Undaunted, she enrolled in a four-month intensive language immersion program at the Global Language Institute (GLI) in Minneapolis.

“GLI helped me learn to write more than speak,” she said. “So, I knew I just had to get out and talk to people to really learn the language, but it was scary. Fortunately I’m not shy, so I just started striking up conversations, explaining to people that I might not understand everything or be able to respond properly.”

Achieving her goals one step at a time

With this ‘no fear’ attitude and her father’s words ringing in her ears – “Maryelle, no matter what happens in your life, set a goal and keep working to reach it,” – she plunged into student life and academics at UW-Superior.

“It was really difficult because I had to translate everything in my head,” said Nyeck Nyeck. “Sometimes I got headaches from concentrating so hard, but I just kept going toward my goal of earning a degree.”

Maryelle joined the track & field team her freshman year and said it was one of the best decisions she made. She instantly connected with teammates and Coach Glen Drexler, and began to feel more and more at home in her new campus community.

But, as her classes got more challenging, Maryelle traded in her track shoes to focus on her studies. That was when she met Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza and her world changed.

“I had heard great things about Dr. Rios, so I requested her as my advisor,” she said. “But, she became much more than that to me. She was like a second mom.”

Microplastics research

Maryelle became one of Dr. Rios’ student researchers, helping her with her microplastics environmental pollution research, a landmark body of work that has garnered international attention.

Maryelle and Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza

“Maryelle was my star student at looking for and finding microplastic particles (fragments, microbeads, and fibers) from water and fish stomachs,” said Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza. “I can tell you that she has gained plenty of experience in the wet lab now. She is persistent, responsible, and wants to continue her studies in Forensic Sciences. I wish her the very best in all her future endeavors.”

“The money I earned working for Dr. Rios helped me pay my tuition, but it did far more than that. She taught me how to solve problems in the laboratory and in life, and helped me establish my next goal – to attend graduate school to become a forensic scientist.”

Maryelle was elated to learn she has been accepted to graduate school at Alabama State University is preparing to begin her graduate studies there. She crossed the stage at UW-Superior commencement on May 19, 2018, leaving an indelible mark on the University, having served as its Black Student Union president, completing an internship with the Superior Police Department, and presenting her microplastics research at the state and national level.

With tears in her eyes knowing her family was not going to be able to travel from Cameroon to see her graduate, Maryelle said, “It makes me happy to know they’re proud of me. Someday, I hope to return to Cameroon to use my education and experience to benefit my native country.”

Academic Service-Learning (ASL) is community-based learning embedded within a credit-bearing course. These valuable real-life experiences enhance students' understanding of the courses' objectives and their sense of civic responsibility.

Many students like Maryelle also benefit from working part-time while going to college. There are vast opportunities on campus or in the Twin Ports area and the Career Services office can help students with their job search.



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