How Mikaela Mallin combines dance and science to EXCEL

The Iowa Challenge defines "excel" as follows: “Academic excellence means setting and meeting high standards for yourself as a student. Faculty, staff, and other students will ask you to work hard and push yourself intellectually. We expect a lot from you; you should expect only the best from yourself and the university.”

Mikaela Mallin is a senior from Cedar Falls Iowa studying biomedical science and dance. She is a university honors student with a high GPA. However, what she has excelled in most is her involvement outside the classroom. Mikaela believes that most learning happens outside the classroom, which is why she has been such a big advocate for experiential learning.

Mikaela says her father was always involved with research when she was growing up in Cedar Falls, which inspired her to get involved with research when she got to campus freshman year. She lived in a research based LLC in Petersen Hall, and her RA helped her get in contact with ICRU, the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates. From there, she joined the lab where she has been working for the past three years studying melanoma.

Since her first year, Mikaela has been a part of things all over campus. Along with her research, she has been a TA for Foundations of Biology, researched abroad as part of the India Winterim program, worked in ICRU to promote undergraduate research, and more.

Her time at Iowa has helped her fall in love with research and the learning that comes along with it. She says scientific research methods also help her navigate life, teaching her what questions to ask and what experiments to set up. She believes research gives you the chance to see what’s actually happening in science, and lets you prove for yourself what you learn in the classroom. Working in a lab has helped her learn to synthesize information she finds in the lab with information she already knows.

Perhaps what’s most unique about her path of study is the her focus on the intersection of science and dance. Along with cancer-related research, Mikaela has studied postmodern dance and its relationship with second-wave feminism.

“The combination of dance and science gives me the chance to bring a creative way of thinking to science, and helps me use outside the box approaches to our problems,” she says.

Mikaela is part of a dance group that travels all over the midwest and engages in lots of community outreach programs. These outreach projects help Mikaela think of ways to use dance as a form of science communication, she says.

“The challenge of science is communicating it’s ideas to those who don’t have a science background, and don’t understand,” she says. “I hope to create dance that communicates scientific concepts to the public and non-scientific community.”

Another of Mikaela’s hopes for the future is getting a Ph.D. in cancer biology. Currently, she is in the process of applying and interviewing for Ph.D. programs. All her transformative experiences have helped her not only excel in academics, but in her future career too.

“I might excel in the classroom, but what’s the point if I don’t use that knowledge to better the world around me, and to help women’s role in science,” Mikaela says. “Excelling is not just getting the best job or grades, but sharing knowledge that you have learned.”

About the series: the Iowa Challenge is a mission statement for UI students that involves 5 main goals: excel, stretch, engage, choose, and serve. These 5 things are what the UI expects from students, and what students should strive to do for themselves. This series profiles 5 students who exemplify what it means to take part in the Iowa Challenge.