Small School Gives Big Opportunities

Professors' Active Guidance Puts Student Leagues Ahead

“At Saint Leo, I’ve been able to be a part of several research opportunities with professors and work right alongside them in the lab. Big universities don’t do that."

More than once in her life, Kaitlyn Hite has had the opportunity to compare her educational experiences in very small and very large environments. While she achieved her goals in both situations, she now truly knows what she prefers. “At Saint Leo, I’ve been able to be a part of several research opportunities with professors and work right alongside them in the lab. Big universities don’t do that. They’ll direct your studies, but not work with you one on one. I’ve been to conferences and presented, and I wouldn’t necessarily have had the opportunity to do that at a larger university. I’d have been lost in the numbers.”

For the last two years, Hite has been working with her mentor and organic chemistry professor, Dr. Jess Jones, using high frequency sound waves to create chemical reactions. “Something in that class got me wanting to do research. The lectures made me excited, along with what I was seeing in the lab. I decided to ask my professor about doing research and he did it with me.” This research with Dr. Jones blossomed into a lot of interesting findings which have exciting possibilities for the pharmaceutical industry, Hite thinks. Moreover, at the 2015 Florida Academy of Sciences, Hite presented her findings and won the award for Outstanding Undergraduate Oral Presentation in Environmental Science and Chemistry.

DAILY LAPS

What led Hite to Saint Leo were the opportunities she had at Lake Brantley High School, one of the largest in Florida. Hite had grown up in a small community in Alabama, where she knew everyone, but her family moved to Orlando when she was in high school. “Orlando was a shock, coming from a small place. But I’m a swimmer, and that wasn’t a huge sport for high school athletics in Alabama. My school in Florida had its own 50-meter pool, so I got to have an experience I wouldn’t have had in Alabama. If I had stayed there, it’s possible I wouldn’t have been recruited to Saint Leo.

Knowing she wanted to pursue a major in biology in order to move on to medical school and ultimately a career as a physician, Hite figured just about any undergraduate college could offer her a biology degree. So at that point, it was about finding how to hang on to her athletics for as long as possible. “I just wanted to swim in college. It was all about swimming. I had been speaking to a couple of colleges with competitive level athletics at the state level. I sent my swimming times to several schools, and Saint Leo asked me if I wanted to come for a visit.” The coach arranged for Hite to stay in a room with a senior who was on the swim team and who would show her around. During that visit, Hite remembers that this girl seemed to have a lot of great experience and that she said “hi” to every single person they passed when walking through campus. “She knew everyone. I liked having familiar faces from my time back in Alabama. That impression about Saint Leo came true for me, because now I’m a senior and I can’t cross campus without saying ‘hi’ to everyone.”

Lab Photo (skeleton)

As a biology major with a minor in chemistry, Hite’s daily life at Saint Leo is very busy. “I typically get up at 5:30 and go to swim practice. Then I grab a bite and head to work or class. I work in the tutoring center. Any level of biology or chemistry, I tutor, since I’m a senior. Then lunch, more classes, then second swim practice of the day, dinner, homework, and sleep.” Yet, after four years of doing the laps, either in the pool or across campus from classes to labs, Hite is still unable to pick a favorite class or professor. “It’s too hard to pick a favorite. I know several of them very well. All my professors know me. We’re not numbers here.” But she can pick a favorite spot on campus. “The dock down at the lake at sunset.” And she’s truly able to recognize and articulate the progress she’s made. “I was falsely confident in the beginning. I thought I was so mature and could handle every situation they threw at me. Now as a senior, I realize my shortcomings and I realize when I need help and how to call out for help.” No doubt, this will serve Hite well in medical school. Accepted to all the programs where she interviewed, she selected the University of Central Florida College of Medicine to pursue her studies. Thanks to her hard work and all the great experiences and research opportunities she earned at Saint Leo, she is well prepared for her next adventure.