Laurel Wessman: Following her passion


Emily Aasand

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Laurel Wessman: Following her passion

Laurel Wessman's family has been coming to the University of North Dakota for generations, so it's no surprise that the native of Fargo, N.D., would follow suit.

"It's the Wessman legacy to go to school here," Wessman said. "My grandpa, Henry "Bud" Wessman, started the physical therapy program at UND, so it's a big family school," Wessman said. "He also became the mayor of Grand Forks and served as North Dakota's House of Representative for a term."

Last year, Mr. Wessman was honored with the Sioux Award for his services to UND and to the community.

Following her passion

Wessman came to UND with a passion for languages and science and plans on graduating with majors in both French and Biology.

"I started taking French when I was in seventh grade," Wessman said. "I really enjoy languages, traveling, and other cultures, so French was a good fit for me. It also gave me the chance to focus on human right issues in French-speaking countries."

"We looked at the works of Simone de Beauvoir – a famous French philosopher, writer, and feminist – on feminism and compared them to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Wessman said. "After all that research, it's a driving force to go into humanitarian organizations and make sure someone is advocating for human rights."

Dr. Mosher has been a huge influence on Wessman's life.

"Dr. Mosher was a huge motivator and kept the program interesting," Wessman said. "She was a major contributor to my success and helped me get a French outreach program started at a local elementary school."

"The French Café" is an after school program for grades 1-5 to learn French. Wessman started the program at Holy Family-St. Mary's Catholic School in Grand Forks last year with the help of the Latchkey coordinator Trish Mohr.

"It's an hour program on Mondays and Wednesdays where we teach kids how to speak French," Wessman said. "We teach them the alphabet, names of animals, how to order at a French restaurant, how to ask for directions, and we talk about places to visit while in France."

The program is still going and is run by the officers of the Club Francophone at UND.

From French to Biology

"I love everything I've done with my French major, but then I have a love for hard science," Wessman said. "I love facts, research, teaching, learning, exploring, and asking questions, so Biology it was. The experiences I've gotten from each major are different, but they reflect my interests."

Wessman works with associate biology professor Turk Rhen to study temperature dependent sex determination.

"It's a sex determining mechanism for gender," Wessman said. "We can control the gender by varying the external temperature. It's been a lot of fun and it's probably one of my most valued undergraduate experiences. Getting to work with Dr. Rhen has been incredible."

Professors to mentors

Wessman credits a lot of her inspiration to follow her passion to UND faculty members.

"Dr. James Haselton in the Pharmacology, Physiology, and Therapeutics department has let me be a teaching assistant for his human physiology class for four semesters," Wessman said. "They, Dr. Mosher and Dr. Rhen, have been huge in making my university experience as good as it possibly could be."

"Dr. Haselton, Dr. Mosher, and Dr. Rhen are some of the highest regarded faculty members and individuals that I've ever encountered in my entire life," Wessman said. "I wouldn't be where I am without them."

Next, Wessman plans to pursue medical school and one day would like to work for Doctors Without Borders.

"I really align myself with their mission statement and their goals to help French-speaking countries," Wessman said. "I'd like to be a reproductive endocrinologist as a fertility specialist, so it's the perfect fit for me."

Emily Aasand

University Relations student writer

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