Jessica Koehler patrols left field for the Albion College softball team, but there have been days this season when she thinks she is juggling bowling pins instead of snaring line drives.
An all-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association second-team performer in 2011 and a two-time member of the league's academic honor roll, Koehler is taking a class to prepare for the Medical College Admissions Test in addition to her regular coursework in biology, chemistry, English, and physics, and completing a presentation on detecting e-coli bacteria in environmental samples for the college's April 19 Elkin R. Issac Student Research Symposium.
Despite the strain of being in class from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday, and prepping for the MCAT for five hours on Wednesday night and Sunday afternoon, Koehler boasted a .291 on-base percentage through April 7 and helped Albion win three of its first four MIAA contests.
"It has been a lot to balance, and some days are harder than others especially when tests are coming up and you know you are not going to get all the time you need to study for them," said Koehler, who is leaning toward a career in the emergency room or as an orthopedic surgeon. "I thought about [rearranging my classes] but it was a fleeting thought because it would not have been a good choice. I am taking physics classes this year and there is another chemistry class that is helping a lot in preparation for the MCAT. This is the most beneficial schedule even though it seems like a lot.
"The week before spring break I had three tests, a paper due, MCAT class on Wednesday, and practice every night because we were leading up to leave for Florida," she added. "I didn't pack until an hour before we left for the airport."
Koehler noted she likes science more than any subject and that English is her most challenging class. "I don't naturally write papers well. I'm writing a 10-page paper about any subject we wanted, so I figured I'd use it as a chance to find research to write my thesis next year. So I'm writing about food contamination," she said.
The conflict with the MCAT class came into play March 28 when Albion challenged Madonna University in a non-league doubleheader. Koehler scored as part of a three-run third-inning rally to pull Albion within 6-4 in game one, but she had to leave the field in the fifth inning. The scenario repeated itself April 11 when the Britons challenged MIAA rival Kalamazoo College.
Koehler added the unusual weather has worked in her favor as the Britons have not been forced to reschedule contests though two-thirds of the season. She does not have fond memories of the end of the 2011 season as rainouts forced Albion to travel to Indiana to play MIAA rivals on consecutive dates with final examinations looming.
"The weather has been a huge help this year," she said. "I schedule my week based on when we are supposed to play."
'Why not start research now?'
Koehler became interested in researching bacteria through a class in microbes in public health taught by biology professor Ola Olapade during the 2010 fall semester. She wound up joining Olapade, working in the 2011 spring semester as a teaching assistant preparing items in the lab. That developed into a six-week experience funded by Albion's Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity (FURSCA) the results of which she will report during the student research symposium.
"I've been using water samples from the Kalamazoo River to test the level of e-coli using different methods," Koehler explained. "I'll take the e-coli sample and dilute it to different levels and see how sensitive each method is. I continued to work a lot on this project at the beginning of this semester, but schoolwork has piled up."
Koehler noted that the research has moved from testing e-coli levels in water to raw meat.
Looking ahead to summer
Koehler and her teammates hope to advance Albion to the MIAA Tournament for the first time since 2003. Once the season is in the books, she will turn her attention to sitting for the MCAT on May 31 and then submitting primary applications to medical school and to coaching youngsters playing softball in her hometown of Ira.
"You can press submit for medical school applications on June 5 so I will probably spend the week after the MCAT writing my application," Koehler said, noting that deadlines established by Albion's Institute for Premedical Professions and Health Sciences have led her to completing the personal statement portion of the application.