Calcutta, India, and the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. The wilds of Yellowstone National Park and the wilds of Mongolia. England's Oxford University.
Those are just some of the places that four students graduating Saturday from Montana State University have been or are heading to next – an illustration of the university's widening geographic diversity.
They came from all over the West and all over the world. Their undergraduate educations have given them opportunities to reach new destinations, near and far.
“I think MSU is an incredible school,” said Ethan Perry, 22. “You can go a long ways with what you learn here.”
Perry, a 2009 Park High graduate from Livingston, has earned highest honors and a degree in mechanical engineering.
This summer he plans to work in Yellowstone alongside his dad, a farrier, shoeing the 300 horses that pull stagecoaches and give trail rides to park visitors. Since he was 5 or 6, Perry has been riding in his dad's truck to horseshoeing jobs and learning the craft.
“It's one of the reasons I'm interested in mechanical engineering — there's mechanics, anatomy — everything in an engineering sense from the horse's knee down,” Perry said. “One of the greatest memories I have is going into the park (to shoe horses). It's just a lot of fun. It's a passion.”
The recipient of a Montana University System scholarship, he's grateful to MSU's Honors College, which gave “incredible” help and guidance, he said. “Not only did they challenge me, they made me strive to do my best.”
MSU is also where Perry met his wife, Sarah, a music grad. In August they'll move to Bellingham, Wash., where he'll start his new career with British oil giant BP.
“In a few years I'd like to come back, start my own business,” Perry said.
Gourav Krishna Nandi, 22, grew up in a suburb of Calcutta, an area with 14 million people. Nandi said he wanted a college in a quiet, rural environment and MSU offered him a good scholarship. Plus he found Montana's cold weather “a brilliant attraction. It actually snows!”
Nandi will graduate with highest honors, double degrees in the history of science, the environment, technology and society and in philosophy, and a minor in math. This fall he will enroll at Oxford University to pursue a master's degree in the history of science and medicine. He wants to explore medicine before it became professional, when people relied on herbs and home remedies passed down through generations.
Nandi came to MSU planning to study chemical engineering, then math. But the questions he was asking were highly philosophical. Lengthy talks with Honors Dean Ilse-Mari Lee helped him find his path.
“Looking back, the last two years have been absolutely fabulous,” Nandi said.
Now, he hates to leave. “I was able to take classes with these awesome philosophy and history professors,” Nandi said. “I'm really sad about leaving.”
Emilie Kuster, 22, was planning to head to Seattle after graduating from high school in Sandpoint, Idaho. Friends persuaded her to try MSU, which offered a presidential scholarship, debt-free education and great skiing.
“I fell in love” with MSU and Bozeman, Kuster said. “There's a very strong feeling of community — you're instantly welcomed.”
She will graduate Saturday with highest honors in nursing. MSU has given her opportunities to pursue her passion for exploring the world.
Kuster visited Thailand with the Honors College's great expeditions and Morocco through international studies.
As a junior, she and other nursing students went to Fort Peck to give well-child clinics in the schools. She returned there to interview residents for her honors thesis on perceptions of mental health on the reservation.
Kuster also spent a month in far western Mongolia, shadowing a community nurse and living with herding families.
“I'm super glad I picked MSU,” Kuster said. It gave her a chance to do research as an undergraduate, and to work as an intern with the nonprofit Iqra Fund, which promotes girls' education in Pakistan.
Graduating feels both exciting and nerve-wracking, she said.
“It's a new adventure,” Kuster said. “It's the first time I haven't known what the next year looks like.” She has applied for nursing jobs in Seattle. But first it's time for a road-trip to Vancouver, British Columbia.
Kris FourStar, 32, an enrolled member of the Assiniboine tribe on the Fort Peck Reservation, graduated from Wolf Point High, where half his freshman class dropped out.
“My grandfather had a big impact,” FourStar said. “He'd always tell me, ‘In my day all you needed was a pick and shovel to get a job. Today you need an education.'”
FourStar studied at MSU for three years, but quit and returned home when his daughter was born.
During his seven years back on the reservation, he worked in the tribal health office on communicable diseases, like HIV and hepatitis. Encouraged by his boss, he returned to MSU.
Today he's graduating in psychology, and planning to seek a master's degree in public health while applying to medical schools.
FourStar said he was typical of MSU's non-traditional students — sitting in the front row, reading every text, “very motivated and excited.” He also worked part-time in a research lab, while raising his two children by himself.
“Of course it's not easy, but it's very manageable,” he said. “At times we all do our homework together.”
FourStar said he's excited to be graduating, “reaching a goal I set for myself.”
When he talks with younger students, FourStar tells them it's great that at MSU you can know your instructors on a first-name basis.
“They're always ready to help you,” he said. “They care about you a lot and want you to succeed.”
Graduation ceremonies for 2,047 students earning degrees will be held Saturday in the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. The morning ceremony begins at 9 a.m. for graduates in the colleges of Arts and Architecture, Nursing, Education, Health and Human Development and Gallatin College. The afternoon ceremony at 1:30 p.m. is for the colleges of Agriculture, Business, Letters and Science and Engineering. Processionals begin 20 minutes before each ceremony starts.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-1633.