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The Mitchell Family: All In at Olivet

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For the Mitchell family at The University of Olivet, it’s very much a family affair.

In May 2023, dad Russ and daughters Hannah and Mary walked across the stage at Commencement to receive their bachelor’s degrees. Daughter Emily will return in the fall as a junior.

Having three sisters and their father attending the same college at the same time is undoubtedly rare, if not unique.

Mary was the first to choose The University of Olivet as her academic home. She wanted to play soccer and looked at many different colleges before choosing Olivet. It was a great match for Mary, who studied biology/pre-med and immersed herself in life on campus.

Mary’s sister Hannah was intrigued by what she was hearing about OC from Mary. After Hannah finished her associate degree at the community college where she was studying, she transferred to Olivet to work on a bachelor’s degree in chemistry/forensic science.

Not one to be left out of the family fun, Mary and Hannah’s sister Emily began her first year as a chemistry major at Olivet the next year.

It was a family trifecta: the three Mitchell sisters were all at The University of Olivet.

But someone was missing. Hannah shared that for as long as she could remember, her dad had been saying that he wished he had finished his bachelor’s degree.

Russ and his wife, Jill, had decided 25 years before that he would stop taking college classes so they could focus on their family. For the past 28 years, Russ has been working at Pfizer, a biopharmaceutical company in Kalamazoo.

Hannah asked her advisor, Dr. Susanne Lewis, to talk to her dad about the possibility of finishing his degree at Olivet. Dr. Lewis was happy to oblige and set up a Zoom call with Russ. Daughter Hannah was right there by his side, encouraging him.

Following her conversation with Russ, Dr. Lewis determined the college could award him some credits toward his bachelor’s degree for his extensive work experience. She then figured out how he could take all the classes he still needed for his chemistry major in a single year.

The next thing the Mitchells knew, there were four of them attending The University of Olivet.

“The kids were the ones who convinced me to go back to school,” Russ said. “I thought it was too late.”

With the Mitchells all majoring in science, they had various classes with one another and plenty of opportunities to study together. “There were lots of late-night calls about homework and even some family study sessions on Zoom,” Mary said.

“It was nice to have tutors right in the household, showing me what the current expectations were for the papers, the homework,” Russ said. “I’m a bit out of sync with how things are now compared to 30 years ago. Blackboard didn’t exist; the internet didn’t exist — everything was on dial-up computers back then. It’s different now. It was fun to have my daughters get their ol’ dad up to speed on stuff.“

While each was a strong student individually, together, the Mitchells brought out the best in each other. All four have been on the Dean’s List, and two have been on the President’s List. Mary was selected in 2022 as a Cutler Fellow, a prestigious faculty-guided research program at the college. Emily is an incoming 2023 Cutler Fellow. Mary, Hannah and Russ all received honors as outstanding graduating seniors in the sciences.

As a service-learning project, Russ took on the organization of the college’s new chemistry research lab, built a stand and sourced gloves for a “glove box” for working with air-sensitive chemical materials, and got some donated gas chromatographs up and running.

Dr. Lewis offered, “I know why Russ’s kids are the way they are. They all have a drive to perfection, which is not a bad thing.”

Russ’s spouse, Jill, and son Rusty, a student at Portage Central High School, both said they couldn’t be more proud of their family members and the way they have supported one another through college.

Russ added, “Aside from our family, the Olivet family has been great, too.”  He said his classmates were very accepting and his professors helped him fit right in. “I’m very appreciative of Dr. Lewis and the college for helping me make this work.”

After graduation, Hannah and Mary both started working at Zoetis, a global animal health company in Kalamazoo. Mary plans to apply to veterinary school and Russ is looking forward to new opportunities with his current employer.

Next year, Emily is left on her own to carry on the family tradition at The University of Olivet. When asked about this prospect, she said, “Having no other Mitchell in my classes next year is going to be weird!”

Don’t worry, Emily – we know that your parents and siblings will be there for you when you need them.

And so will the rest of your The University of Olivet family.

Learn more about The University of Olivet by contacting the Office of Admission at admissions@uolivet.edu or 269-749-7635.

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