Great Grad 2017: Darla Balawender

Darla Balawender started at Lorain County Community College with plans to pursue the nursing program. But she soon changed her mind and decided to follow the dream she had since fifth grade — to become a doctor. Now the Elyria resident is about to graduate from Bowling Green State University through the University Partnership with a bachelor of science focused in biology.

“After taking my first two biology courses I fell in love with it,” the 38-year-old said. “Medical school remained my focus until I joined the research group led by Harry Kestler, Ph.D. It was in the lab that I discovered how intriguing medical lab research can be. “

She plans to earn a master’s or a doctorate in the biological sciences, and focus on genetics, or immunology. “There is a lot of promise in genetics research and I hope to work on gene therapy for disease,” Balawender said.

“LCCC and the UP helped me reach my educational goals by allowing me to be close to home. I was able to earn my degree without traveling too far away,” Balawender said. “Both institutions provided me with an exemplary education and the research opportunities that I was given prepared me for work in a research lab.” The program allowed her to study part-time and be at home with her kids during the day at the beginning.

Determination and a tremendous support system allowed her to achieve her goals. Balawender wants to thank “My long list of family and friends who always believed in my dreams with me and always encouraged me to keep going even when I wanted to quit,” she said. “My mom taught me to work hard and never give up no matter what obstacles life throws at you. My three beautiful children who have sacrificed time with me were happy to help me in any way they could to help me finish my degree. My husband has been my unwavering support system for the last three years. He has taken on things when I was in finals mode, he has dealt with my tears, anger, and happiness with ease. He knew what this meant to me and he was always there to push me forward.”

She also wants to send a special “thank you” to Harry Kestler, Ph.D., Adam Miller, Ph.D. and Elin LeClaire for believing in her when she didn’t believe in herself. “Their love for what they teach is infectious and if I can be half the scientists they are I will consider myself one of the luckiest people alive,” Balawender said.