Danielle Hernandez Alumni Blog

Life After NMU -- Alumni Blog

College may seem like what happens after high school, but it's also what happens at the  beginning of a career.  Northern alumni share their stories in a monthly series of blogs. Click here to view previous alumni bloggers.


Danielle Hernandez

Mayo College of Medicine, Graduate Student in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Rochester, Minnesota
Graduated from NMU in May 2010
Bachelor of Science Degree
Premedical Program and Education Program
Biology and Integrated Science Double Major
Chemistry Minor
Personal Statement


Danielle at the Mayo LaboratoryHow did you decide on your major/minor?

I decided upon my major and minor based on the program I was interested in most, as well as my personal interest. During the pre-medical program and while I was preparing for my MCAT, I had a revelation about why I wanted to be in medicine and what specialty I wanted to partake in.  I realized that I wasn’t finding as much enjoyment in studying consistently for tests and not impacting peoples lives earlier with my skills and knowledge. I turned to professors and mentors, who suggested I consider the profession of education, as I had already being co-teaching at NMU, tutoring at NMU, volunteering to teach swimming for at-risk youth, etc.  I became a member of the education program, and while taking required classes I continued to advance my scientific knowledge in other fields and attained a second major in integrated science (which helped me later achieve an additional teaching certification).


Does a degree from NMU compare equally to a degree from other schools?

I firmly believe your degree is what you make it! NMU may not be a Big Ten school, a noted research facility, or have extremely competitive acceptance guidelines, but it provides a diverse place to learn with people from around the world achieving different goals, small to moderate class sizes where you are not just a number, professors are accessible and appreciate being sought out for help, significant extracurricular opportunities for clinical rotations, access to technology, volunteering, research, leadership, multicultural experiences, and more. I had previously attended the University of Minnesota and University of Saint Thomas gaining experience at a large Big Ten school and a small private school, and I am always happy I chose NMU because it provided me the experience of a lifetime and prepared me for my future.


Do you have any advice on what’s important to keep in mind when choosing a university?

When choosing a university, I would recommend considering these topics and questions:

  1. Location: Is it close to family if something were to happen? Is if far enough from family so they are not visiting every day? Does is provide additional activities specific to the area? Is it someplace new for a fresh start? Know what is most important about location for you.
  2. University Atmosphere: Are people helpful on campus? Are there activities to meet to people? Is it safe? Do you feel comfortable? Is it connected to nature or an urban retreat? Are there additional programs to become involved in to help you stand out academically (like Superior Edge, SLFP, etc.)? Is it the right size campus /population for your needs? Know the atmosphere you would like to spend the next few years.
  3. Finance: Will you be able to graduate and not be swamped with loans? Will you have the ability/access to work on or off campus? Are there scholarships available to you? Will you begin to gain your financial independence (gain credit, responsible use of credit cards and checking accounts) while attending college?


Did you end up working in the field of your major/minor? If not, did not majoring in your professional field hinder you in any way?

I did end up in my field of study in two ways. First I did use my teaching certificates to provide me a year of being a fulltime 6-12 grade science teacher. Second, I decided I needed to be involved in cutting-edge science like I was during undergrad, and am now attending Mayo Graduate School to achieve my PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology so I can use my scientific knowledge, as well as help change the lives of patients indirectly to help make new discoveries to improve treatments and patient care. In the even further future I may be teaching again, but this time as a professor.

Part 2

How did you get into your professional field?

I became part of my professional program by taking advantage of opportunities throughout my life while I was achieving my Bachelor of Science degree. Not only did I complete my degree program and pass my teaching certification exams, and teach for a year. I participated in additional learning opportunities across the United States and internationally. Such as:

  1. Summer Medical and Dental Program (SMDEP) at Columbia Medical School, premedical preparatory program
  2. Conducting biochemical research in West Africa in a International Research Experience for Undergraduates (IREU), through the National Science Foundation (NSF)
  3. Conducting genetic research at NMU with the help of my molecular biology professor, Dr. Alec Lindsay
  4. Leading and contributing to the Biological Honors Society (Tri-Beta), volunteering and bringing notable speakers/researchers like Sean Carroll to NMU
  5. Completing all four tracks of the Superior Edge
  6. Co-teaching and assistant teaching with the First Year Experience program (FYE)
  7. Joining the International Dance and Ballroom Dance organizations
  8. Teaching backpacking for youth in Colorado
  9. Participating in clinical shadowing at Marquette General Hospital (MGH) and local clinics
  10. Tutoring with the All Campus Tutoring Program (ACT)

These are some of the activities I took part in, which helped me become a well-rounded individual with diverse experiences that employers and schools look for. These experiences also helped me decide what pathway best suited me best.


What skills are needed to do what you do?
Skills I utilize while attaining my PhD: networking, time management, leadership, technical writing, reading high volumes of material, following research protocol, empathy for patients, communicating with diverse groups of people, continuously learning new things.


What do you like/dislike about your job?
I enjoy learning and conducting cutting-edge scientific research at a world-renowned facility for clinical and scientific advancement. I enjoy being in a community that values leading, the environment, patients and learning for the sake of understanding science to make changes in the world to help others. I am always challenged and working with new people from all parts of the globe. I am able to be close to my family and continue to be an active member of society and enjoy life while not being bogged down with work or stress 24/7/365.

What advice would you give me, as a student, to help me get the same type of job as you have?

If you were interested in getting your PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology, or any science for that matter, I would suggest:

  1. Get a strong foundation in science courses
  2. Join a lab or have 2 different lab experiences with different mentors
  3. Work with team members (in club, study groups, join a journal club where you analyze recently published materials, etc.) to develop leadership skills and be able to be a positive and contributing team member
  4. Gain diverse experiences where you travel nationally or internationally to learn about another culture, pace of life and people
  5. Stay in touch with professors, advisors, colleagues, and reach out to them for ideas, advice, support – and provide that in return as well


Part 3​

When you tell people that you graduated from (or are attending) NMU, did they know anything about Northern?

Very, very few people I work with or have met know about Northern. This I think comes  from not really knowing much about Michigan, let alone, where the Upper Peninsula is (since I am from Minnesota).  I find myself using my hands to demonstrate the UP and LP of Michigan to explain where I have spent the last few years of my life. Many people are eager to know what brought me to NMU and how my experience was.


If you had to pick a college again, would you pick Northern? Why or why not?

There is no doubt in my mind that I would most certainly pick Northern again! I achieved all I had planned and more at NMU. I was given extensive support and guidance, which I still have today, from faculty and alumni. I made lasting relationships and extensive memories that I share with people to this day. In addition to achieving my B.S. degree and graduating with honors.


What is your best college memory and why?

This is the most difficult question, because there is not one memory that is the best, because there are so many different ones! However, one of my first memories at NMU was coming to orientation and being worried about getting a roommate that didn’t clash with my style of living. I was fortunate to have met another first-year student with the same worry.  Having instantly decided we didn’t want to be placed with an unknown roommate, we immediately decided we would be roommates. Me, a city girl, and her, a country girl, who are to this day great friends and could never have asked for such a great roommate for the first few years of college.  We have shared many great times together and look forward to many more.  When we graduated and move states apart, we still keep in touch and refer to each other as, Velcro 1 and Velcro 2; no matter how far apart our bond and friendship will never change, nor be forgotten.


If you had to do college over again, what would you make sure you did the same and what would you do differently?

I would be sure not to overwhelm myself my first year, no matter what anyone suggested I could handle. There are too many new experiences and life changes that happen during the first year.


What were the best decisions you made regarding college, your professional career, life in general?

My Best Decisions in:
College: Not being afraid to take risks with support, try new things, and challenge myself
Graduate School: Apply to your dream schools; the worst they can say is “no thanks.”
Life: Family and friends are our foundation and the people who keep us going. Never forget where you came from and to stay involved whether you are near or far.


​Part 4

Tell us the story of how you decided to go to NMU.

I decided to come to NMU after doing a search at my high school career center about schools in a fairly close radius, with moderate size campuses, and successful premedical programs. I investigated each school, but I had a good gut feeling about NMU from the start. I insisted I visit campus with my family even though they were very much wondering why Michigan? Once we arrived, we all immediately knew it was the perfect place for me, with numerous opportunities, in the heart of nature, close to Lake Superior, not too far from home, with many nice people and successful programs.

It was hook, line, and sinker, as well as, comfort in knowing I would be attending a school that fit a variety of my needs and interests.


Was there a faculty member who made a particular impact on your time at NMU or later?

There are several faculty members in biology, chemistry, and education departs who made and continue to have an extensive impact on my success! I am very fortunate to have so many people willing to help me throughout my time at NMU and as colleagues now. Of everyone, the person I have known the longest, who always helps me achieve my dreams no matter the obstacles, is Ms. Shirley Brozzo. Shirley is the associate director of the Multicultural Education and Resource Center and adjunct assistant professor in Center for Native American Studies. She has the most open mind and open heart!


What internships or student jobs did you have with NMU and how did they shape your career?

I shared many of these above in another question. =)


Where did you live while attending NMU? Do you have a story about a roommate or a housemate?

I never would have thought I would have moved so many times in my life, until I moved to NMU. Having lived in the dorms, on-campus apartments, in several off campus apartments / houses with various roommates or friends, and finally on my own; in total I have moved 12 different times. Too many, right… and that doesn’t even include short-term stays of 2 month internships, etc. – that would bring me to 15.

I learned a lot about my living needs during different stages in my life where I had been involved in varying activities, which has helped me feel comfortable seeking housing now, on my own, independent from family and school.

When I was in undergrad, it was nice to share experiences with others who were in similar situations.  Learning and trying new things together, it was a safety net and it made life that much easier during the first few years.

I value coming home to friends and family, in a relaxed atmosphere, outside of my work environment when I was teaching full time. I separated myself from work every evening, which really helped me be eager to get to school each day.

Now, I know when picking new place how much I value particular aspects of living.


When describing NMU to people who aren’t familiar, what do you say?

I usually say: I attended school at NMU, in the heart of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, right on Lake Superior. The campus and town is surrounded by nature with places to get outside for a hike, bike, run, ski, swim, camp and much more. It may be a conservative place historically, but the university and hospital have brought new insight and liberality to life, with so many people from unique backgrounds and experiences sharing their wealth of knowledge. It was the perfect size, atmosphere, and culture for my undergraduate degree, and I am very fortunate to have attended NMU.