Mia Kauffman

Mia’s Journey


Mia Kauffman


San Antonio, Texas


Chemistry and Spanish

Why Grinnell?

I went to a small, urban, all-girls Catholic high school. For college, I was looking for a liberal arts school with a very welcoming and inclusive environment and supportive community, where I could feel heard and supported by faculty and advisors.

During my visit to Grinnell, I felt that this was the place that fit the bill for me. I felt seen and not like a number in class visits, and Grinnell frequently reaching out to me during the application process convinced me. With fun letters and personalized emails, I felt that the constant communication helped me feel connected to the campus.

First Year, A Supportive Community

Transitioning to college wasn’t easy, but I really enjoyed it. I don’t think I had any expectations coming in; I just wanted to be included and seen.

I was able to have my first-year tutorial class in person before the pandemic hit fully and we were forced to go home. While I was adjusting to college, my adviser would reach out to me to check in on my mental health. Everyone else wanted to get to know me as a person, so I always felt supported.

Mia and her friends crouch near the grass while holding colorful balloons.
Mia and her friends are dressed up for Halloween

And then on the track team, everyone was super nice and impressive. My coaches knew I was struggling with the transition to college, and they were great at checking in with me. During practices, they would pull me aside and ask how I was doing. I always felt confident that I had someone if I needed help.

Mia has her arms around her two track friends. They are smiling together in a photo

A huge thing I learned during my time in college is the importance of asking for help. Thanks to the supportive community at Grinnell, I’m not afraid to do that anymore. I’m stronger because I can gain the wisdom and knowledge of other people without taking it personally.

Thanks to the supportive community at Grinnell, I’m not afraid to ask for help anymore.


Remote learning was hard and didn’t work well for me when I did it my first year, so I decided to take a year off. 

Something I never expected was that even during the spring semester during my leave my advisers would still ping me and ask, “Hey, how are you doing? Let’s set up a time to meet.”

I still felt wanted and special during my leave.

Finding My Passions

A Community of Supportive Women

I came in thinking I wanted to take the pre-med path. But after getting into the Spanish major and taking a gender, women’s, and sexuality studies (GWSS) course, I now want to use my chemistry studies to become a chemistry professor and be a mentor for other minority women in the field.

I started to have this realization when my first-year adviser suggested that I take a GWSS course. I really loved the class, which introduced me to women’s rights and feminism. That was the start of my journey.

The following semester, I decided to combine my interest in GWSS with a Spanish class on women in gender and literature. We studied some of the first educated women in the world, who were nuns in the Catholic Church.

The experiences I read from the nuns inspired me; I connected it to chemistry and the great female mentorship I have from my advisers in the higher ed sphere.

No Green Thumb?

I found the Delaware State Parks environmental steward internship through my career adviser. I was looking for something environmental, but this experience showed me that I don’t actually like plants!

Mia and her friend give an enthusiastic thumbs up to the camera amidst the trees in the Delaware State Parks
Mia and her friends all pose in front of a car at the Delaware State Parks
Mia and her friend have hiking gear on and smile at the camera

A Knack for Research

I pursued chemistry research here at Grinnell through my Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) with Professor MacInnes. Under her guidance, I used electrochemistry to explore extraction materials for heavy metal pollution. I got to use environmental applications in chemistry laboratory research, which I loved.

Mia is in front of her MAP presentation billboard. She smiles happily at the camera with her research behind her.

At the beginning, I wanted a lot of guidance from my adviser. She put me to work within the project and helped me learn the research techniques. After two weeks, I was pretty independent and could make decisions while also gaining a lot of technical research skills (which grad schools will love!).

Mia proudly holds a flask with tubes in her hands.

The picture above is unrelated to the MAP, but the MAP gave me a lot of confidence working independently in a lab, and it convinced me that I want to do research for a career. My MAP adviser is writing recommendation letters for my Ph.D. applications now!

This past spring break, I went to the ACS (American Chemical Society) Conference to present my research. It was an awesome experience that was fully funded by Grinnell. I presented my research and listened to a bunch of other people’s research. I learned how to network and discovered what it’s like to attend a conference.

If you’re looking for grad school as a next step after college, Grinnell is a strong option for getting you there. You’ll work very closely with your professors here, which will really strengthen your experiences and your grad school applications.

A Mentoring Community (in the SEPC)

I’m on the SEPC (Student Educational Policy Committee) for chemistry, and that has been really cool. We put on fun events, such as a chem draw, which is a computer program for organic chemistry.

The pictures below are from my organic chemistry class.

Mia takes a selfie with safety lab goggles on
Mia's organic chemistry class

I think my most impactful activity is my job as a science community leader at the Science Learning Center. I’ve been doing that for two years now. My role allows me to connect with students and help guide them. I work in the classroom and in the lab, and I enjoy getting to help foster a positive learning environment. I love being able to connect with other students outside of the classroom (such as at the dining hall, social events, etc.).

A Love of Kids, Off Campus

At some point in college, I knew that I wanted to gain a new perspective and live abroad. I chose Ecuador because I wanted to improve Spanish fluency and take Spanish classes and explore that culture.

Going into my off-campus study, I volunteered and tutored math and history to kids in Spanish. From that experience, I discovered how much I love kids and that one's learning environment is really important for a person's success. It convinced me that I want to work in education.

Reflections on Path to Ph.D.

Mia smiles for the camera as she holds on to the boat railings

Looking back at my four years at Grinnell, I feel that I have definitely grown from all my classes and experiences in ways I didn’t expect.

I think I have changed in good ways: I have a very open perspective about things and am confident in myself. Looking back, I will remember the Grinnell community and its interdisciplinary academic approach.

And most importantly, I will always remember the growth that my advisers encouraged in me. I want to someday teach at a liberal arts institution, maybe even in a small town like Grinnell, and hopefully encourage the same growth in others. I hadn't experienced this kind of close community before.

I feel excited for how Grinnell has prepared me for my future!

Hopes and Plans for the Future

Hero Image with Text

I plan to enjoy my last year at Grinnell and then pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry. I’m grateful for Grinnell and everything it has taught me, and I’m excited for what is next. 

I want to study analytical chemistry. I really want to be a professor and mentor for students. My organic chemistry professor, Professor Mobley, approaches his teaching very collaboratively and is interactive with students. I’m inspired by his teaching and want to be that kind of teacher for others.

Other than that, I want to keep traveling!

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