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Karlie Weise

From restaurant manager to chemistry Ph.D. student, '22 grad prepares to mentor

By Coban Brooks

Karlie Wiese grew up in Southern Oregon. This term, she is graduating with a degree in chemistry from Oregon State University and has been accepted into the University’s materials chemistry Ph.D. program. But Wiese is not your typical undergraduate student.

Weise graduated high school in 2008 and decided to continue working instead of going to college. She eventually became the store manager of a Pizza Hut, where she met her now husband. The two moved to Iowa where she then worked as a debt collector, but after an unfortunate accident on the job left her husband unable to work, they moved back to Oregon to stay with Wiese’s parents.

“I used that as an opportunity to go back to school, because I figured I was going to need something that was more financially stable,” she says. Had that series of events not happened, she doubts that she would have enrolled in college. “It wasn’t something I had on my mind as a goal to do one day.”

Coming into college, Wiese initially wanted to work as a lactation consultant. “My plan was to just take the minimum requirements for the certification,” she says. To make herself more hirable and to broaden her qualifications, she later decided to pursue a degree in nutrition.

This degree plan had one problem ­­– the chemistry requirement. “I took one term of chemistry in high school and hated it. I dropped it and didn’t take the second term,” she recalls. “I was procrastinating it the most out of any of the classes I had to take for the degree.”

However, things worked out differently this time for Wiese. “I ended up loving it. I enjoyed doing chemistry more than doing nutrition.” She enjoyed it to such an extent that she even began tutoring other chemistry students.

“I love watching these students evolve over the course of the year and inspiring them to also get excited about chemistry – that’s my favorite part.”

“I think it’s really fascinating to learn about this whole world we can’t see,” she says. “Understanding those fundamentals and how they can explain everything around us is really cool.” This fascination led her to switch her major to chemistry during her senior year.

When asked about her favorite experiences as a chemistry student, Weise is eager to point to how much she enjoyed being a teaching assistant for the general chemistry series. It can be a daunting subject, but she wanted to make it interesting for her students. “I love watching these students evolve over the course of the year and inspiring them to also get excited about chemistry – that’s my favorite part.”

Working in Kyriakos Stylianou’s materials chemistry research group, she has also helped develop an undergraduate teaching lab which allows students to learn about metal organic frameworks and become involved in research happening at Oregon State.

Even though her undergraduate career is ending, Wiese’s commitment to learning is far from over. She was accepted into Oregon State’s materials chemistry Ph.D. program where she will continue to develop her knowledge and enthusiasm about the chemical world.

After graduate school she hopes to continue in academia, potentially leading a research group at a primarily undergraduate institution. One way or another, she is passionate about getting students excited about science and scientific research.

In her free time, Weise enjoys going on hikes and visiting the Oregon Coast, as well as dancing ballet or Argentine tango. She also has a six-year-old daughter. When not in class or studying, Wiese spends most of her time with her, shuttling her back-and-forth to school and running errands.”

Appropriately, she has already become a chemist-in-training. “She loves building molecules with my model kit. And we’ve done some volcanoes, elephant toothpaste and those sorts of reactions.” Luckily for her, she has a chemistry teacher and mother built into one.  

Weise admits that this entire journey — moving back to Oregon, returning to school, and finding a passion for chemistry — would not have happened without her daughter. She was a major catalyst that pushed Wiese in this direction, and now, she wants to make sure that she sets a good example.

By working hard and making school a priority in her own life, she hopes her daughter will do the same and see that learning is enjoyable. “I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for her,” she says.