Zach Benefield chose Illinois State for two reasons: meaningful interaction with faculty and worthwhile learning experiences. When Benefield prepared to transfer from Illinois Central College, he knew he needed a place where he could regularly interact with faculty, and Illinois State, particularly through the opportunities available in the Honors Program, proved to be the best fit. “ISU focuses on their students more than other institutions,” Benefield said.

The molecular and cellular biology major juggles an incredibly busy schedule.  He works full-time as a pharmacy technician at Walgreens, goes to school full-time, and fits in the things he needs to be competitive for graduate school such as job shadowing, volunteer work, and research.

Benefield has conducted research almost from the moment he stepped foot on campus.  His biology Honors Independent Study focused on genetics, neurology, and behavior.  He examined neurons in C. elegans (worms), as well as their magnetic orientation and thermosensitivity. Benefield has worked with a small team of undergraduates, and supported a doctoral student and Assistant Professor of Molecular Neuroethology Vidal-Gadea in their neurobiology research. Benefield is pursuing Honors in the Major and completing his Honors Thesis this semester, which examines the effects of simulating the magnetic and gravitational fields of Mars on C. elegans.

Through it all, Benefield has loved his experience conducting research.  “Doing research is a lot different than taking classes, even labs.  Research is more real- you can memorize terms and definitions, but you may not fully understand until you actually do research in the field,” Benefield said.

Communication skills and the ability to work as part of a team were just a few of the things he learned through Honors Research.  Benefield said, “I learned being wrong is just as important as being right. We need to know what doesn’t work, but you live for those moments when you get something right and it can help people.”

Benefield also took advantage of the opportunity to be a part of Honors Alternative Spring Break, first as a participant and then as a trip leader.  He initially signed up for the experience not knowing a single person.  “Halfway through the week though, I was best friends with half the people there.  By the end, I had talked to everyone,” Benefield said.  “Especially being a transfer student, I think Honors ASB is an amazing opportunity to help you meet people and also grow as a person.  I feel a much stronger personal tie to the university after being able to do an experience like this.”

Nearing graduation, Benefield is staying open-minded as he looks to the future. He plans to pursue a master’s degree in global health so he can travel the world, help educate others, and improve the health of people where it is needed most. He also hopes to teach someday as a way to give back to the educational system that has meant so much to him.  “I’m open to the possibilities,” Benefield said.

After all, the smallest things can have a big impact.  “I never thought I’d like working with worms until I tried it, and now I love working with those little guys!”