I AM UAA: Chris Schlotfeldt

by Kathleen McCoy  |   

I Am UAA Chris SchlotfeldtB.S. Biology '06
Fairbanks, AK
Fun Fact: Was an exchange student to Denmark as a senior in high school

A fourth-generation Alaskan, Chris Schlotfeldt has a remarkable story of bravery and comeback, a story that many college students can probably relate to on some level along their own higher education journeys. Wanting to follow in his grandfather's footsteps, Chris enrolled at the University of Alaska Fairbanks shortly after high school with his sights set on a business degree, transferring to UAA after just one semester.

"Both semesters were fantastically miserable for me," Chris says, "solely because I had absolutely no interest in the subject matter."

Chris instead embraced the idea of life experience. Having traveled to Europe before giving business classes a shot, he settled on getting away to Southeast Asia when the college scene didn't work out. For years he traveled extensively and pursued experience in mountain climbing, guiding and rescue. Then, at age 29, he was in a profound climbing accident that left him in the hospital back in Anchorage for weeks.

"I endured many surgeries and a prolific amount of pain," he says. "The same year, my financial world crumbled since I did not have health insurance at the time, and I endured a divorce."

All that said, one incredible silver lining appeared from it all: He was inspired by the field of medicine.

"During my year of physical recovery, I researched the medical industry, what it took in terms of education to achieve each of the different positions (doctor, nurse, etc.) and I even obtained a full-time clerical position at Providence Hospital. After much thought, I decided I wanted to shoot for the highest of objectives: to become a physician. It's not in my genes. It's not in my pocketbook. It's not even in my mentality. But I was beyond inspired."

Directly after making that decision, knowing what he would need to endure on an academic level in the sciences, he went to a used bookstore, purchased a third-grade level arithmetic book that contained over a thousand very basic problems, as well as a basic human biology book.

"Then, on my own, I established a six-month curriculum for myself," Chris says. "And while working at Providence, I did every math problem and read the entire biology book. I loved those six months. I was confident that I could return to school. So I went for it!"

His first semester back at UAA, aiming toward a pre-med degree in biochemistry, entailed only sub 100-level courses. He wouldn't get official credit for them, but he knew he had to have a solid foundation in the basics to be successful. He also decided a personal objective would be to become really good at math.

"I was convinced that I was not good at math," he admits. "So I took another sub 100-level math course my second semester, and from there I took every single mathematics course that UAA offered up until Calculus II. And I did so with darn good grades!"

All said and done, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in biology in 2006 and is now in medical school at the Universidad de Autonoma de Guadalajara School of Medicine in Mexico.

"The University of Alaska system gave me chance after chance," he says. "When I was down and out, the University of Alaska was there supporting me. When I tried to follow in my grandfather's business shoes by studying accounting, the University of Alaska was there to not only support me, but to help me explore what I loved and what I did not. And after what any other university would deem as a 'failure,' the University of Alaska system did not. Instead, when I returned to school at nearly the age of 30, I was welcomed back with open arms. And over the six-year period that I was studying full-time science at UAA, as well as working full-time at Providence Hospital, I was respected, supported, loved, helped, encouraged, uplifted, promoted, befriended, tutored and pushed to grow and mature."

Well into medical school, Chris is surrounded by brilliant students and feels like he received the best science education out of any of them.

"UAA's science, mathematics, chemistry and biology departments put me far ahead of the game," he says. "My problem-solving and life-solving skills far surpass many of those around me. But only because UAA did all those things that I mentioned before."

Chris intends to pursue a career in either pediatrics, emergency medicine or pediatric psychiatry. He has done medical work and traveled in many far off places, including Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South America and Europe. "I intend to commit my time to medicine in the developing world," he says. "And I have a special interest in the Amazon region."

One thing is certain: Chris has what it takes to navigate the challenges of the jungle, whether that's the Amazon or the college classroom. He's a true UAA inspiration.

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