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Persist and Conquer, An Essay by Christine Lewis

Photos courtesy of Christine Lewis.

Christine Lewis, a chemistry major at Arizona State, is the first winner of our Annual Veteran Recognition Scholarship.

An Army veteran, doctoral student and mom, Christine spends much of her limited free time as a volunteer where she works on science outreach that teaches young children about the importance (and fun) of science. At the university, she serves as a member on the Veterans Advocacy Board, and more.

While in the Army, Christine was a 97E Interrogator/Linguist, 1st Psychological Operations Battalion, under the Special Operations Command at Ft. Bragg. In addition to going airborne at Ft. Benning, she attended the Defense Language Institute, went through immersion language training in Guatemala, and worked on a team that developed strategies to decrease the flow of drugs from Bolivia.

Christine was selected out of 100+ scholarship applicants that included compelling stories and experiences from a variety of applicants, ranging from military children and wives to active duty and veterans.

Scholarship panel judge Nate Boyer, former Army Green Beret and professional football player, had this to say to Christine:

“I was immediately drawn to your personal story. Pat Tillman is a hero of mine, and one of the reasons I was inspired to join the military just a year after he passed away. I respect anyone who volunteers to serve their country because I know the sacrifice it takes, whether it’s walking away from millions of dollars like Pat did, or putting higher education on hold for a while. This Valor Scholarship you have earned is well deserved, and I can’t wait to see where life’s journey takes you next!

De Oppresso Liber” is very proud to help Christine further her education and continue to make her mark on the science and veteran communities. Here is her winning essay:


Persist and Conquer

“SEVEN!” I counted apprehensively. Eyes wide, I looked across the expansive skyline at 10,000 feet above the ground. Adrenaline ran through me as I realized the chute had not opened on seven. I was in free fall.

I felt another soldier’s strings and parachute tangling amongst my feet. This was not going as planned. Untangling my feet, I then ran in midair over his chute, guiding myself to the side to catch air. Finding my own space, I instantly plummeted past the other paratroopers as they gently oscillated under the safety of their chutes.

In what seemed like an eternity, that lovely chute did its job, billowed out to its full expanse and caught the air it craved. I had limited time to prepare for the ground that rapidly raced toward me. I tumbled hard and rolled onto the earth’s steady surface, and that was that. It was time to gather my pack, my rifle, roll up my chute and march on. And, so I did without missing a beat. It was just another day in the life of a soldier.

There is no doubt that the US Army changed my life. It taught me to listen to those that know more than I do. It emphasized that I must trust myself to think on my feet. It set the example to give 110% even when people were not looking. It fortified the idea of strength in teamwork, and emphasized how to appreciate the contributions of a diverse peer group. It promoted approaching goals with patience and determination. Most of all, it taught me to never take a single day for granted, because you never know when it might be your last.

Christine, pictured in front of the White House.

Like all those that served before me, I too came to understand the full impact of volunteering in the US military. I knew that there may come a time that I would have to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect others from harm. Even though most of us did ordinary tasks and jobs there, we lived day-to-day knowing this. In my mind, this defines bravery.

The military shaped me into the person that I am, and showed me that I should always be on an upward slope of progress. After serving, I went to school as a “non-traditional” student, which is a classification often tied to veterans that start college later than traditional students. I obtained an undergraduate degree in microbiology and a master’s degree in organic chemistry, while was raising two small children. Although, it was necessary for me to take a break to gain economic security for my family, I was not finished. I knew I had not yet reached the top and that as soon as an opportunity arose I would be back in school to get a doctorate.

The military trained me to persist and conquer. So here I am, at the University, to finish what I started. I love that I had a chance to go back to school and I plan to squeeze out every ounce of good that can come from this. I have jumped in with full force with school and community service, including: science communication, veteran advocacy, science policy, and outreach. I work as a science writer with the Arizona State University Biodesign Institute media team. I served on the graduate student government board for veteran advocacy. With the help of the Pat Tillman Veteran’s Center, we were able to start the wheels rolling to implement veteran-advocates at the different schools within the university.

Additionally, I worked with the Travis Manion Foundation as an ambassador. I also served on the family advocacy board to provide stipends for students with families that are in need of daycare. I am part of a grassroots student network called Arizona Policy Network. Its mission is to provide a pool of qualified scientists to act as a resource to legislative policy makers. I developed a science outreach program to work with young children (1-3 grade) to study how scientific inquiry changes through the ages as well as act as an undergraduate mentor in the lab.

Christine, standing in her lab with a beaker of photosynthetic cyano.

With military ingenuity, I plan to contribute to a broader scope. Currently, I am wrapping up a PhD in chemistry under the School of Molecular Sciences at Arizona State University within Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery. The project is called microbial electro-photosynthesis and is an interdisciplinary project overlapping chemistry, organic synthesis, microbiology and engineering. Although I am solo in the project’s lab work and research, I am privileged to be advised by seven different internationally renowned principal investigators at the university.

My project involves unlocking the mysteries involved with energy transfer. Specifically, I work on bridging artificial energy with natural photosynthesis by tapping into the latter half of the photosynthetic electron transport chain. The research objectives are to have the ability to turn photosynthesis on at will, make it more efficient, and produce stable energy products.

By the year 2050, with global expansion moving at the pace that it is, our energy needs will surpass our supply. However, we can act now to learn how to provide efficient and cleaner energy. It is my goal to contribute to the next “breakthrough” that will help to make this big, blue marble a better place.


Check back throughout the Summer to read the remaining Top 5 finalist essays and learn more about their amazing stories of service and how the military has impacted their education and learning.


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