UNK Biology M.S. student Blase Rokusek awarded Graduate Student of the Year

Posted: May 22, 2023 11:00:00 PM CDT

Three people posing with award.

After graduating Summa Cum Laude from the University of Nebraska at Kearney two years ago, Blase Rokusek has now earned his Master of Science degree from UNK with a new honor: 2023 Graduate Student of the Year. 
The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Graduate Studies and Academic Outreach created the Graduate Student of the Year award in 2022 to celebrate outstanding students, like Rokusek. 
“We are thrilled to recognize Blase Rokusek as the Graduate Student of the Year,” Dean of Graduate Studies and Academic Outreach Dr. Mark Ellis said. “Blase was a standout student in the Biology M.S. program and will be attending medical school at UNMC in the Fall.” 
Rokusek graduated from UNK in 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Psychobiology. He added to his growing collection of diplomas on May 19 when he graduated with a Master of Science in Biology.  
“Dr. Kim Carlson proudly boasts that Blase was the best graduate student she has ever mentored,” Dr. Ellis said. “That makes us feel proud in the Office of Graduate Studies & Academic Outreach. We offer quality graduate programs at UNK, and Blase's academic success is a perfect example of how UNK can prepare our students for careers in medicine and beyond.” 

Professor and graduate pose in cap and gown.
Dr. Kim Carlson is a Professor and Co-Chair of the Biology Department. She was also Rokusek’s advisor and primary thesis mentor.  
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” Dr. Carlson wrote in her nomination. “It is obvious that all the Biology Department faculty like Blase. He is truly what this award entails. I can’t think of a graduate student who is more deserving or one that will be more missed than Blase.” 
It is obvious that the appreciation goes both ways between the two. 
“Dr. Carlson was always available if we ever needed anything,” Rokusek said. “Her door to her office is always open. I stop in there pretty much every single day just to either talk, or ask questions, or anything.” 
Dr. Carlson was also the professor who persuaded Rokusek to pursue his master’s degree in biology. 
“My senior year I took genetics with Dr. Carlson and as soon as I took it, I was like, ‘I want to do some research in genetics.’ That is kind of what made me stay at UNK and want to do a master’s degree here,” Rokusek said. 
UNK’s Biology M.S. program provides students like Blase Rokusek the “best of both worlds” with a focus on student research and quality teaching. 

Biology faculty and graduate pose in front of backdrop.
“The UNK Biology program has a ton of amazing equipment and a lot of amazing professors at our disposal,” Rokusek said. “The research we do here is really quite amazing. It’s the best of both worlds. As a primarily undergraduate institution, all the professors here are very geared towards teaching. So you get professors that are really good at teaching but also we have the ability to do really cool research.” 
Really cool research indeed. Rokusek has published a research article from Dr. Carlson’s laboratory studying heat tolerance in fruit flies. 
“We work with fruit flies, not because we're particularly interested in fruit flies themselves, but because they're a model organism for genetics,” Rokusek said. “I don't want to overstate it, but most of what we know about genetics comes from fruit flies. We share roughly 75% of disease-causing genes with them. So if we find something in fruit flies, we can generalize it to humans.” 
Beyond his work in Dr. Carlson’s lab, Rokusek has published five scholarly articles, with more to come this summer, in psychology, teaching pedagogy, and biology. He has taught undergraduate biology courses as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, worked as a Lab Prep Assistant, and volunteered as a Supplemental Instructor for Anatomy and Physiology, as well as at multiple Science Days, judging science fairs, and assisting with overall needs throughout the department. 

Student in biology lab.
UNK’s Biology M.S. program has provided Rokusek with many opportunities, but his passion is research and teaching. 

“He loves teaching and interacting with students,” Dr. Carlson wrote. “The students said that he was passionate, understanding, and extremely helpful. He went above and beyond to assist his students, in and out of the classroom.”  
Rokusek’s passion for teaching is what caused him to be “leery” of accepting the position as a Lab Prep Assistant, which Dr. Carlson said is a “coveted position.” He hopes to be able to continue both teaching and research in his future. 
“As of now, the plan is to do psychiatry,” Rokusek said. “I'd like to be able to teach and do research in some capacity as well as practice. I don't know exactly what that'll look like, but as of now the plan is something in psychiatry.” 

Student and professor pose with award.
While he’s looking toward the future, Rokusek looks back fondly on his time at UNK. With the university and the people there having such a large impact on his life, it makes being named UNK Graduate Student of the Year all the more meaningful to him.  
“I'm very honored to be awarded it,” Rokusek said about the award. “UNK has meant a lot to me. I'm a very different person than I was when I started six years ago as an undergrad, but I'm very happy with the trajectory that I'm on in terms of just everything, personally, professionally, and UNK has been a huge part in all of that. The whole place just means a lot to me, so to have UNK recognize me, it's really kind of cool.” 

By: Heidi Knake

Category: Graduate Studies, General, UNK Online, Natural and Social Sciences

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