Kenny O'Dell '16

Photo of Kenny O'Dell '16

  • Pre-professional chemistry major from Carlyle, Illinois
  • Minoring in creative writing, biology, and sociology
  • Lincoln Laureate winner
  • Tyson Research Fellow
  • Student vice president of Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society
  • Bearcat fencing team
  • Co-editor of the Montage, student literary magazine

If life is found in the things we learn and the new experiences we try, then Kenny O'Dell '16 definitely puts the “life” in “lifelong learner.” His immediate goals range from attending medical school to learning Japanese kanji to mastering a Grieg sonata on the piano. In short, Kenny’s list of academic interests and hobbies is almost as long and diverse as the countless course offerings and programs of study available at McKendree.

A senior from Carlyle, Illinois, Kenny took advantage of every opportunity to grow academically when he came to McKendree. During his sophomore year, he was named a Tyson Research Fellow and participated in a summer ecology internship studying habitat restoration in the Missouri Ozarks. Kenny collected data from more than 30 field sites alongside a team from the Tyson Research Center, learning firsthand about plant community compositions and insect communities.

Although he planned to focus on chemistry and biology while in college, Kenny’s curiosity soon led him to branch out into other areas and try his hand at fiction and poetry writing. The decision resulted in his pursuit of two additional minors in creative writing and sociology.


Quotation Graphic “I started to realize that the learning process is very transferable between the subjects, and I became excited by it.”


“When I took English Grammar, I thought it was really similar to Organic Chemistry in form and function. Likewise, music has similarities with math, spatial relations, and improvisation. Then there’s creative writing. It’s like the glue that makes everything stick together, inspiring you to learn more so you can write more and challenge your imagination,” said Kenny.

Photo of Kenny O'Dell '16Kenny’s love of learning and impressive academic and extracurricular accomplishments led him to be selected as McKendree’s Lincoln Laureate Award Winner for 2015. Once a year, this prestigious award goes to an outstanding student from each of the state’s colleges and universities. Kenny attributes his success to something he believes is even more important than the scholastic opportunities McKendree gave him: his relationship with his professors.

“Getting to know your professors and being able to have one-on-one discussions really solidifies what you’re learning and is one of the biggest advantages of going to McKendree. I owe it all to them because a lot of my interests were piqued by their classes and affected my thinking and outlook. Not to mention they’re just a lot of fun to talk to.”

Kenny’s McKendree experience has taught him that personal growth comes from seizing every opportunity to learn something new, both inside and outside the classroom, and opening your eyes to the connections that exist between seemingly unrelated things.

“Lifelong learning allows us to see more, to imagine more. It combats apathy and creates a sense of self-awareness. My advice to the next class of McKendree students would be to talk to your professors and take a class here or there simply out of pure interest or for the challenge. Who knows, you might enjoy it and build memories along the way.”

Learn more about McKendree University and the Chemistry program.


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