Steven M. Corey, Ph.D., president of Olivet College, speaks of the Olivet College experience in a way that brings it to life for those who haven’t lived it, and brings it to mind for those who have. As he describes it, there are as many different college experiences as there are different kinds of college students, and each has a unique set of characteristics. From online programs and large university settings where you can cultivate anonymity if you wish, to small school experiences naturally flavored by the founding mission of the institution, students have choices about how and where to receive a college education, and fit is a critical part of having a good educational experience.
There’s no ambiguity about what Olivet College is. It is a small school, personal and immersive, designed to engage students’ mind, body and spirit in the pursuit of knowledge, identity, personal values, and character development. Nearly 175 years after its founding, Olivet College is still pursuing its founders’ remarkable vision to “do good to our students, by placing in their hands the means of intellectual, moral and spiritual improvement, and to teach them the divine art and science of doing good to others.”
One of founding principles of Olivet College, and a characteristic that remains distinctly Olivet, is the education and development of students through close, personal relationships. These relationships serve as the foundation on which security and comfort are built, they are the catalyst for growth and change, they are the connective tissue that creates and sustains years-long commitments to aspirational pursuits, service-orientated investments and caretaking of others.
Melanie Engels ’08 is an outstanding example of the Olivet College approach to education and its impact on the world around us. “Olivet College is a place where you develop your values and beliefs,” says Melanie. “It fosters that development, and when you leave there, you know who you are more so than when you started.”
Melanie’s experience with Olivet College almost didn’t happen. The summer before college, she was committed to the University of Michigan, and was prepared for the start of her freshman year, roommate and all. But her dad heard of an Olivet College scholarship he thought might be a good fit for her and encouraged her to visit the campus just in case. “It was August already, but my cousin had wrestled for Olivet College and my dad encouraged me to consider it, so I scheduled a visit,” Melanie explained. “The entire experience was a good one. I had a great admissions representative, an extensive tour and I got to meet Leah Knapp, DVM, and Maria Davis, Ph.D., both science professors at the time. I really connected with Leah and Maria and it just felt right. They helped me envision a pathway to the career I wanted, connecting my bachelor’s program with my then-plans for graduate school. It was close to home, offered a strong scholarship and I wanted a more personalized experience. I went home that day and withdrew from U of M.”
That personalized experience that Melanie hoped for became a reality at Olivet College. “The professors were there for you all the time. They were always willing to help you – academically, personally, professionally. They pushed you to do your best and kept you on your toes.” And it wasn’t just professors who had an impact on Melanie. She described the deep friendships and support systems she developed with fellow students, especially in the science program. “The relationships I formed have been long lasting,” Melanie said. “We still get together twice a year. Those relationships give you a support system. The fact that I’m still maintaining these relationships shows how much they’ve meant to me.”
Melanie was a highly engaged student during her time at Olivet College, investing deeply in academics, service, co-curricular activities and career preparation. She was a member of Alpha Pi Upsilon, the pre-med honor society, the Global Citizen Honors Program, Helping Hands and Soronian. She also played the saxophone in the Wind and Jazz Ensembles, worked as a student mentor and teaching assistant for chemistry, and was the director of New Student Orientations. She was in the top five of her graduating class, earning the Donald A. Morris Academic Excellence Award winner with her Bachelor of Arts in biology and biochemistry.
Throughout her time at Olivet College, Melanie volunteered at Hayes Green Beach Memorial Hospital in Charlotte, where she rotated through several departments before finding she enjoyed the pharmacy and requesting that she be placed there permanently. Because of her strong performance and commitment, she was offered a position as a part-time employee in the pharmacy, serving as a pharmacy technician for the remainder of her undergraduate years. A professor and mentor, John Wilterding, Ph.D., shared his father’s experience as a pharmacist, and as part of her explorations of graduate schools and possible careers, Melanie explored careers in pharmacy. After graduating in 2008, she entered graduate school at the University of Michigan, earning a Doctor of Pharmacy in 2012 and upon completing two years of residency, specializing in health system pharmacy administration, took a position with the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) as the manager of ambulatory process and service quality. Melanie also earned an Master of Business Administration from New England College in 2016.
Two years ago, Melanie had an opportunity to pursue a position with Munson Healthcare. Though fully engaged in her role with UMHS, she and her husband, Ed Lauermann, decided to take the opportunity, and relocated to Traverse City. Melanie is pharmacy manager, responsible for dozens of staff across four of Munson’s pharmacy department lines. “All of my experiences contribute to how I manage and connect with people,” Melanie explained. “Evaluating all of those, I take those I enjoyed and were meaningful and they shape how I approach things. And Olivet was the start of my adult life – the foundation – and it’s where I learned how to be patient, how to work through frustrations, how important it is to create and maintain relationships. Olivet is where it all started.”
Melanie has not only had a successful educational and professional career, she’s also been pulled toward community involvement, especially with the organizations who have helped shape who she’s become. She serves as the secretary for the Phi Delta Chi Fraternity Alumni Chapter for the University of Michigan, as well as the Alumni Association Board and the Board of Trustees for Olivet College. “Education for Individual and Social Responsibility really stood out when I was a student at Olivet College,” Melanie said. “My professors taught us to be accountable for ourselves, but also to be accountable outside the classroom, through service and volunteerism. It’s really stuck with me. I believe it’s important to stay involved, stay connected and give back to the places that gave you so much.”
Melanie and her husband have lived in Traverse City since 2016 and are committed to their community. In addition to their professional roles (Ed is an attorney), they own or co-own several businesses in the area. They also grow a large garden every summer and can many fruits and vegetables. Melanie continues to develop in her field; she’s currently working on a certification in medication safety to become more involved in safety and quality within the Munson system.
Melanie Engels ’08 is an exceptional example of what the founders of Olivet College envisioned – highly engaged individuals doing good in their field and being of service to the community and people around them.
Engels’ Advice for Current Students
“Get involved as much as possible. You can go to class and get straight As, but when you begin to interview for jobs or graduate school, they’ll be looking for well-rounded individuals who can juggle multiple priorities. So pick a few things you really care about, then get deeply involved. This is what will differentiate you.”