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Biochemistry grad’s experiences, support lead to success

May 18, 2023
Mitch Imlah, Bevent, completed his biochemistry degree in three years, graduating May 20 from UW-Stevens Point. He plans to be a medical doctor.
Mitch Imlah, Bevent, completed his biochemistry degree in three years, graduating May 20 from UW-Stevens Point. He plans to be a medical doctor.

A college degree was not on the radar when Mitchell Imlah graduated from Rosholt High School. With a grade point average of 2.1, “I wasn’t that kid who did well in school,” he said.

Imlah graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a biochemistry degree and 4.0 GPA in May. He is undertaking the process to apply for medical school this month.

The road between those two graduations took Imlah across the ocean, to intensive care units (ICU) and through a global pandemic. These experiences sparked his interest in a health care career and built his confidence to attain it.

He credits mentors in the military and UW-Stevens Point with helping him succeed.

Growing up, his grandparents were key role models, he said, but: “I didn’t know how to apply myself.”

He joined the U.S. Air Force in 2012 to help him focus and pursue excellence. “I really wanted to serve my country, and I joined to get better opportunities for the future.”

Imlah became a medic. He learned he liked talking to people and taking care of them. “I was put in a few life-and-death situations, and I remained calm and able to think critically.”

He served in a clinical setting, a medical-surgical floor and ICU at the U.S. Army’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, a level 2 trauma center. Helping treat severely ill or injured patients, Imlah became more curious about disease processes. The cardiologist he worked with suggested Imlah consider going to medical school.

“That’s not a thing for me,” was Imlah’s response. No one in his family had gone to college. But the cardiologist laid out the steps to help Imlah envision the possibility. 

When he left the Air Force as staff sergeant in 2018, Imlah began following those steps. He completed his paramedic’s license, worked at Wausau Hospital and, for the past 3 ½ years, at Aspirus Hospital Stevens Point Emergency Department.

He enrolled at UW-Stevens Point during the COVID-19 pandemic, taking classes online while working full-time. The pandemic was stressful for health care workers, but Imlah was committed to helping patients get the care they needed and wanted. “I knew I wanted to continue in medicine. I didn’t burn out with all the shortages and tempers flying.”

He credits Biology Assistant Professor Michael Steury and Associate Professor Jennifer Bray for encouraging and guiding him on the pre-medicine path. “Dr. Bray was just amazing. As my adviser and mentor, she really helped me.”

Recent graduate Mitch Imlah and associate professor of biology Jennifer Bray.
Recent graduate Mitch Imlah with his adviser and mentor Jennifer Bray, an associate professor of biology.

Some of his science courses were a struggle. He made a point to get to know his professors and linked learning and questions to medicine.

“UWSP is where I belong. It wasn’t until Point that I even knew I had a chance to succeed,” he said.

He’s grateful for support, kindness and motivation from many faculty members, also citing Robin Tanke, chemistry, and Palesh Banerjee, physics. Tanke nominated him for an organic chemistry award. He did research with Banerjee, studying changes in molecular environments using lasers and measuring photon emission.

“I’ve had some really good people looking out for me,” said Imlah of Bevent. His girlfriend, Dana Rasmussen, a UWSP alum and teacher in Wausau, “should have earned a minor in biochemistry for all her help studying.”

Imlah, whose minor is neuroscience and behavior, also enjoys being a mentor to other students. He tutors human physiology and other STEM fields. “I learn best by teaching,” he said.

He completes his degree in only three years. He has received scholarships for his achievements in organic chemistry and his character as a nontraditional student and veteran. This spring he was the recipient of the graduating senior 2022-2023 Distinguished Achievement Student Award in chemistry.

“Mitch is one of the most all-around impressive students that I have ever taught in my 11 years of teaching. His intelligence, maturity and enthusiasm are truly spectacular,” Bray said. “He will be a tremendous medical student, and ultimately, physician.” 

Imlah hopes to attend medical school at the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine, part of the UW School of Medicine and Rural Health. This competitive program admits students from the Midwest who have a strong commitment to practice medicine in rural Wisconsin.

Imlah wants to be a doctor in a rural or underserved area. “I like being in places that don’t have a lot of resources, where I can do the most help.”