When senior Merle Phillips tutors students who are taking chemistry, they often ask him, “Have you ever gotten a B?” Merle laughs and tells them, “Oh, yes, I’ve done a lot worse than a B.”

And he’s not just telling them that so they feel better. Merle said he came to Missouri Western right out of high school, and says he couldn’t have failed more in his first year. “It was a complete disaster. I lost my financial aid and un-enrolled.”

Feeling like a failure, he worked four years before he was ready to return. “I experienced the challenges of not having a college education, and realized that if I wanted to live to my full potential I would need to go back and put in the work to do so.”

And that’s just what Merle did. He has excelled in his classes, tutored, mentored, worked as a lab assistant, volunteered and served as an officer for student organizations, and conducted research projects with faculty members. Additionally, he has presented results of his research at several national conferences.

“I have had a lot of opportunities since I’ve been at Missouri Western, but really, I just utilized everything that is available to all students,” he says.

And his hard work paid off. Merle was just one of a handful of students selected from across the globe to participate in a 10-week Research Experience for Undergraduate program in the summer of 2019, where he conducted genetics research at Harvard Medical School in Boston. This spring, he learned he has been accepted into Harvard’s biological and biomedical science PhD program.

“The success I’ve managed to obtain as an undergraduate, along with overcoming my own doubts toward what I can accomplish, would not have been possible without the faculty at Missouri Western,” he said. “When I came back, I didn’t really understand the places an education would take me or how I would grow. But now, as I am preparing to head to Harvard this fall, I am excited to see how I’ll grow and change even more over the next five years.