Humans of UD: Grace Stepek

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As comprehensive exams finish and midterms rise around the corner, students have their hands full, to say the least. Seniors especially have pressures at an all-time high as graduation is soon approaching and post-grad plans await fulfillment and action.

For many, such as senior chemistry major Grace Stepek, this is a time of excitement and reward after years of hard work and preparation. Stepek’s dedication to the application process for Ph.D. programs across the country has paid off, and I had the opportunity to speak with her before her weekend trip to a prestigious campus where she was accepted.

Hailing originally from Austin and a large Catholic family with seven siblings, Stepek went to a liberal arts charter school near her home. Despite the high school’s focus on the humanities, Stepek fell in love with science after a positive experience with chemistry.

“I happened to have a phenomenal chemistry teacher, somehow, and she piqued my interest in chemistry,” Stepek said. “There’s just a puzzle to solve, and I really liked solving that puzzle. So, that started my interest in it.”

Stepek chose the University of Dallas to originally pursue a biochemistry major after a successful Odyssey Day. UD’s readily apparent emphasis on faith mirrored her own, and she felt confident that the university would promote her scientific studies with the foundation of that faith. She enjoyed her science classes the most, especially her organic chemistry class, which delved deeply into her favorite subject.

Beyond her studies, Stepek has many memories of the pandemic-university life mix that only let up around two years ago. Directly before the COVID lockdowns, Stepek and her mother bought a sewing machine with plans of beginning to learn the craft. Once everything shut down, the pair dedicated much of their newly freed time to the hobby and became quite proficient in mask-making, among other projects. Stepek continues to pursue sewing as a hobby, despite the skill’s unusual introduction into her life.

With Latin study as another main hobby of hers, Stepek fittingly named her Rome semester a definite highlight of her college experience. Once again, however, her experience was affected by the pandemic — though strangely for the better.

“We started out [on our Rome semester] with masks and then we ended with nothing,” Stepek noted. “We didn’t have a lot of visitors. So, it was pretty nice because there weren’t a ton of people there yet, as it was the tail end of the pandemic.”

Along with her unique Rome experience and pandemic-acquired hobbies, Stepek is also active on campus as president of a mentoring club, Barbara Bunch. The club goes to a nearby high school one to two times a week and has lunch with at-risk students who benefit from mentorship with college students. There, they talk about life and share advice.

“That’s been my favorite club to be a part of, and I’ve been a part of that for two years,” Stepek said.

Despite her unwavering dedication to science, which she chose as her original area when first entering UD, Stepek weighed different options for career paths and majors throughout her years of study before settling on her current path and mission.

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