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iSTEP Student Spotlights

Alexis Haring ‘22

Alexis is a Biology and iSTEP double major on the pre-medical track. She received a coveted scholarship from the DAAD RISE internship program and will be conducting in-person research at the Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf in summer 2021


Why did you join iSTEP?

Alexis: I had previously taken German for 5 years before coming to UMass, and I did not think it would be possible to continue to take German classes while pursuing a degree in Biology. But thankfully, I had a German 320 class with Professor Feldhaus. She suggested that I try the STEM-German courses through iSTEP. Now, four semesters later, I have joined iSTEP as a double major. This has allowed me to continue to grow my German fluency and increased my internships/study abroad options.

What’s it like balancing iSTEP and your Biology major?

Alexis: Both Biology and German offer flexible options that fit within my primary major of Biology and my secondary major of STEM-German. It’s possible to not be constantly overloading on credits every semester. So it's definitely a balance but worth it since the program offers many opportunities for students.

What else are you involved in on campus?

Alexis: I am involved in the UMass Synchronized Skating Team, Pre-Med Society, and the UMass Minuteman Marching Band.

Have you been abroad to Germany?

Alexis: I have not been abroad to Germany yet, but I will be at Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf researching stem cell niches in the Arabidopsis plant in summer 2021. I was one of 268 out of 1635 applicants to receive the DAAD RISE scholarship. I will be in Düsseldorf for 12 weeks, and I am really excited for this opportunity and thankful for iSTEP for helping me get there.

How has iSTEP helped prepare you to go abroad?

Alexis: iSTEP has prepared me to be successful in Germany because I have gained German fluency and know technical terms that are typically not taught in a regular German classroom.

What would you say to someone thinking about joining iSTEP?

Alexis: That anyone who thinks they want to learn a second language should really consider the iSTEP program in conjunction with a STEM degree. The classes that UMass offers can work with your schedule. Also, being able to speak another language is something that is well sought after in the workforce. This program also opens up amazing study abroad programs for people to partake in.

Any future plans?

Alexis: My future career plan is to go to medical school and pursue a MD. iSTEP has allowed me to gain valuable research and unique things to add on my resume and application to medical school that will make me stand out from other candidates.

Christoph Nuesslein ‘21 

Christoph is a Mechanical Engineering and iSTEP, STEM + German double major. In engineering, he is focusing his studies on robotics and prosthetics. As a sophomore, Christoph was able to study abroad at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. After graduation, he will be attending Georgia Tech to pursue a Ph.D. in Robotics.


Tell us about your experiences abroad in Germany.

Christoph: I spent a semester abroad in the spring of my sophomore year at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

Has the iSTEP Program prepared you for success abroad in your STEM field?

Christoph: The program helped me improve linguistically and also educated me on the academic practices common in Germany.

What’s it like balancing a full engineering course load with the iSTEP major? 

Christoph: It's been more difficult than just doing Mechanical Engineering-focused courses, but it has still certainly been doable.

What would you tell someone interested in joining iSTEP?

Christoph: It's a great idea, especially if you want to expand your education and career horizons globally. German is an amazing language to learn as a STEM student, so I can't recommend it enough. The program is especially accommodating to those with intense majors.

Any future plans?

Christoph: I'm happy to announce that I have accepted a position at Georgia Tech in the Robotics Ph.D. program, where I will be studying wearable robotics. I want to say that the iSTEP program has been incredibly helpful in preparing me for this next stage of my education, and that it would not have been possible without the support of everyone there, in particular Professor Feldhaus.

Christopher Clark ‘20 

Christopher is an iSTEP alum who graduated with a dual degree in Environmental Science and iSTEP, STEM + German. During his time at UMass, Christopher has studied abroad at the University of Freiburg and pursued advanced environmental health research on campus. He will be continuing his education at the University of Michigan by pursuing a Masters of Science in Environmental Health Science in Fall 2020.


Why did you join iSTEP?

Christopher: Every time iSTEP shared a new flyer, someone would send me a text or an e-mail saying that I should check the program out. Joining iSTEP presented me the opportunity to explore my love of language through my scientific studies. Turns out the iSTEP program was the perfect place for me to find a home in the greater campus community. 

How has your experience been with iSTEP Stem-German classes and balancing a double major/ dual degree with STEM?

Christopher:I am receiving a dual degree in German and found with a bit of planning it was possible to achieve. I started my journey at UMASS with very limited knowledge of German and enrolled in GERMAN 110. I took at least one German class every semester until junior year. In my junior year, I began taking STEM- German courses and in the spring semester, I studied in Germany. I did have to pick up a bit more slack and on average take 17-18 credits a semester. I will be graduating fluent in another language! Isn't that the coolest?

Tell us about your abroad experiences in Germany (study abroad, internships etc).

Christopher: I made one of the best choices of my life by spending my Junior spring in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. I found that a piece of my heart and soul was transplanted to Freiburg. I arrived knowing no one and by the end, I made friends from all over the world. I took a step into the unknown and I came back a better version of myself.

I took an arrangement of German classes that focused on language and grammar, as well as, cultural studies of the region, and a course in renewable energy. I was able to fulfill my remaining Gen-Ed requirements and significantly every facet of my German language skills. I did not participate in an internship, although I was able to study things that personally interested me. The most interesting was the chance to take a closer look at the Black Forest's ecosystem and natural history. If you are interested in reading about my AMAZING experience abroad, come check out my blog: 

How has the iSTEP program prepared you to be successful abroad and in your STEM field?

Christopher: The iSTEP program encouraged me to pursue courses relevant to my scientific interests. With iSTEP, I had an upper-hand on engaging with more complex topics that are not used in every day language, but are very important to know as an environmental scientist. 

What would you say to someone thinking about joining the iSTEP Program? 

Christopher:Something that I loved about my education was my ability to study a language. Joining iSTEP broke up the monotony of my courses and added a bit of fun to my education. I was able to diversify my knowledge in the topics iSTEP discussed with a classroom filled will students across a set of disciplines. If you have a passion, pursue it.

What else are you involved in on campus? 

Christopher: I have spent more than 2 years researching the effects of toxic exposures on zebrafish in the Timme-Laragy Lab. I am a community organizer for an advocacy group in my hometown, after our drinking water was contaminated with the same chemicals I study in the Timme-Laragy lab. 

I am an avid mentor and work with an array of students in STEM disciplines. I have been a member of the STEM Ambassadors Program (STEM AP) since my freshman year. STEM AP program is devoted to ensuring the success of STEM students from underrepresented groups through a strong network of diverse students and mentors. This year I taught a professional and leadership development seminar for sophomores. I help sophomores get a sense of what they should have accomplished by the time they are a senior. I am a also Forsythe-Grange Mentor and work with a group of freshman environmental science students.  

What are your future career plans? Has iSTEP opened any doors for you?

Christopher: This coming fall I will be pursuing a Masters of Science in Environmental Health Science at the University of Michigan. I am also the recipient of a merit fellowship that will cover the cost of attendance next year. Leaving UMASS with a degree from the iSTEP program leaves me with the ability to connect my knowledge of the environment to a German context. I hope that I can find a way to connect my graduate education with international affairs and policy, especially in the German-speaking world. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Christopher: Vielen Dank an UMASS, iSTEP und die Deutsche Fakultät. Ohne euch alle hätte ich es nicht geschafft!