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GSU's First Freshman to Graduate

2019 Graduate Profiles

When Emily Metzger decided to attend Governors State University, she had no idea she was making history.

Metzger discovered she was GSU’s first admitted freshman while attending a GSU student event in November 2013. An administrator stepped to the podium and announced, “We are here to welcome the very first student to be admitted to the very first freshman class of Governors State University. Welcome to GSU, Emily Metzger!”

Shocked, she went to the podium and posed for photos with GSU President Elaine P. Maimon and gratefully received flowers, balloons, a gift bag and a $1,000 Merit Scholarship.

On May 18, 2019, President Maimon will hand Metzger her Bachelor of Science degree at GSU’s 48th Commencement Ceremony, making the annual celebration a truly historic event. But for Metzger, the day-to-day experience of being a college student has been the classic college experience: studying for classes, making friends, fitting in time to work and participating in a sport. Her path even included a brief detour to another university.

“It is a sense of accomplishment thinking back a few years ago that GSU started as this smaller graduate school and has now grown into this fully developed university with everything and more to offer because of its students and faculty,” Metzger said. A biology major, Metzger had planned to become a veterinarian. Time spent in lab courses helped her realize she was on the wrong trail. She began to find more interest in courses that allow her to work outdoors with both animals and plants. Taking an ornithology course over the summer spiked her interest in the study of birds.

“We’d go to places like Swallows Cliff at Palos Park Forest Preserve and was taught how to listen and ID different species of birds.” Metzger also enjoyed her ecology coursework including undergraduate research. By taking samples of coyote scat from rural and suburban areas of Illinois, she was able to find positive samples of a microparasite that causes waterborne disease in humans and animals. “Taking classes with Dr. [John] Yunger made me interested in learning more about the correlation of organisms and their environments,” she said.

From the start, Metzger was able to explore her interest in the environment at GSU. As a member of the first freshman class, she became part of a cohort that worked around one of three topics — in her case, sustainability. “I had Professor [Maristela] Zell my freshman year and she was a great professor who really seemed to care about her students. She taught us how to be more mindful of our surroundings and learn how to be fully present in any situation,” Metzger said.

The cohort system, a best practice in academia that GSU adopted when it added underclassmen to the university, would require a group of students to take multiple classes together during their first year. The idea was to help freshmen make friends and connections. Metzger said it worked, especially for those who lived on campus. “Every day you would see the same people and suddenly create a friendship with them. Something that probably would not have happened if we only met for class once a week.”

When Metzger transferred schools her sophomore year, she felt lost on a larger campus.

A single semester was long enough to make her realize what she left behind. “I like the smaller classes we have here,” she said. “And because GSU is small, you communicate with the same people on a daily basis, which made me feel more comfortable and easier to interact with others.”

The small classes and the newly formed GSU Women’s Cross Country team called the Matteson resident back home. “I have always enjoyed running and have been on a cross country team since freshman year of high school. The team turned into my family away from home. Getting up for 6 a.m. practice was tough some days, but it was worth it in the end.”

Being a student athlete, as well as working, kept Metzger busy and presented a terrific life lesson: When trying to balance every aspect of your life and trying to stay focused at the same time, time management is an important skill to help one stay productive.

Now, as Metzger plans her next steps, she is considering GSU for graduate studies.

“The smaller class sizes really impacted my experience. The professor-to-student ratio was helpful in the classroom setting because I wasn’t as afraid to ask a question in class. If I were to return here for grad school, that would make settling in that much easier knowing I can walk around campus knowing these familiar faces.’’