Student Spotlight: Michael Larkins

Michael Larkins in Germany

Paper Science and Chemical engineering double major Michael Larkins spent a semester abroad in Rheinbach, Germany, studying the use of lignin in cellulose films for potential use in food packaging. He received an invitation to participate in DAAD RISE Germany, an internship hosted by the German government to encourage international students to experience German culture and conduct research. Larkins received guidance from the NC State Fellowship Advising Office (FAO), which helps students apply for these types of internships, as well as awards like the Goldwater Scholarship, Udall Scholarship and the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

Larkins spent his days in a lab with a doctoral student mentor, learning important lab techniques and how to document research data. Back at NC State, the Goodnight Scholar is also heavily involved in undergraduate research with the Dickey Group in the Biomolecular Engineering Department. In his spare time, he also edits papers for the BioResources journal, which specializes in science and engineering of lignocellulosic materials, chemicals and their applications for new uses and capabilities. Check out Larkins’ research experience, supported by the CNR Student Assistance and Enrichment Fund.

How did this experience impact you?

This opportunity gave me experience living in a foreign country on my own. I learned how to “fend for myself” and how to make friends with people that didn’t speak English and had never been to the United States. I also learned how to conduct research on a team with members from many different backgrounds, and how to effectively communicate in such a group. This internship also gave me time to contemplate my future and what kind of career I could see myself in.

How has this experience prepared you for your future career?

This experience has given me the opportunity to grow significantly as a person and as a student. I have expanded my academic network, and have an experience that has prepared me for my future career as a medical student. Being able to relate to others is an important skill for a physician, and this internship gave me the opportunity to develop my ability to relate to others. Everyday I worked with people from different cultures whose native language was not English, and everyday I needed to know how to work with others to get my work done.

How did this opportunity enhance your experience as a College of Natural Resources (CNR) student?

This internship gave me an excellent idea of what the classes we take in the CNR can be applied to in real life. The work I did was in the same niche as the pulping chemistry-related classes I had just taken at NC State. Therefore, I had a good idea of what I was doing. I have a better appreciation of what the research professors in the College of Natural Resources are so passionate about and how the field is setup.

Why was participating in this experience important to you?

This experience gave me the chance to grow as a person and as a student, to explore the world, and to put into practice what I have learned at NC State. It gave me a chance to contemplate what I have been learning, and to understand why the classes I take are important. It has also given me a strong foundation for future travel and research.

What did you enjoy most about your experience?

Interacting with the German culture and ultimately becoming comfortable with it was extremely gratifying. I loved that every day my German would improve by a little bit, and each day I became a little more comfortable with living in Germany. Understanding the history by actually visiting the sites where history took place made the experience that much more real and impactful.

What did you find most challenging?

Learning how to live in Germany was very challenging at first. I had almost zero understanding of German, seldom rode trains and had never used a hostel before. Becoming acclimated with all this and more, took time and was sometimes very frustrating. Knowing that I was on my own made it that much more important that I learn how things work.

What did you learn about yourself during your experience?

I learned to have confidence in my ability to solve problems and make my own choices. I learned how to manage my own finances, make friends, travel, plan trips and function as an adult in a foreign country. I also learned that I can be a great team player if I communicate effectively.

Would you recommend this experience to other students?

Absolutely! My experience was amazing, and I honestly feel like every NC State student should live abroad for at least a short amount of time. The growth you experience from meeting so many people from different backgrounds, all with different opinions and ideas, has been something that has affected me greatly. It really makes you question your own beliefs and, I think, ultimately makes you a stronger person.

Any advice to incoming students?

Don’t be afraid to try new things, even if they are totally foreign to you! Sometimes it’s the most intimidating challenge you face that leads to your greatest success. Sometimes the best way to learn is to jump in to the deep end; just be confident that you can swim.

Have you participated in other hands-on experiences?

I have worked as an undergraduate researcher in the Dickey Group since my freshman year, have completed a super co-op with Kimberly-Clark, have done a STEM study abroad in China, and have been on 2 Alternative Service Break (ASB) trips to the Trinidad while at NC State. There are so many opportunities to see new things and get new experiences at NC State that if you try you are almost guaranteed to find something you like. All of these experiences provided me with skills that I used later to make the most of my time in Germany. For example, in China, for instance, I found out first-hand what it’s like to visit a country where the majority of the people don’t speak English.

What do you enjoy most about being a CNR student?

The closeness that CNR affords its students between faculty and staff. The willingness of the CNR to promote awesome opportunities like this grant makes it standout in comparison to any other college at NC State. Its smaller size makes it a refreshing break from other colleges with so many students that the more personalized opportunities in the CNR would be almost impossible to implement.

Anything else you’d like to say?

My time at NC State in the College of Natural Resources has been immensely rewarding, and I can honestly say that many of the opportunities I have gotten at NC State are because of the CNR. Its outreach to students is incredible, and I am truly thankful for everything the college has done!