December 8, 2023

Emma VequistUIW’s Fall 2023 graduating class will walk the commencement stage and enter a new chapter of their lives on Saturday, Dec. 9. Each has dedicated themselves to their studies, made sacrifices to reach this milestone and will carry the Mission of UIW with them into the future. One of these many remarkable graduating students is Emma Vequist.  

Given Vequist’s fascination with science and animals, it’s no surprise that the honors and pre-veterinary student chose to study Biology when she first began her UIW journey. It was a path she felt would allow her to embrace both interests. At the end of her undergraduate career, she knows she made the right choice. 

“What I love most about being a biology student is that there is so much in the field of biology that has yet to be discovered,” she shared. “There are new discoveries in the sciences being made every day and I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of that through my research.” 

Her father Dr. David Vequist, a UIW faculty member in the H-E-B School of Business and Administration, is also grateful for the research opportunities his daughter enjoyed as a student at the place he’s worked for more than 20 years.

Emma Vequist at Christmas“Emma has been given more opportunities to excel and do great undergraduate research at UIW than she would have at most other universities,” he shared. “I am extremely thankful for her professors, the Honors program and that she found her place at the University.”

Those opportunities were as impactful as they were plentiful. As a student of the UIW Biology program, Vequist was a 2022 participant in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Biological Discovery in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. During her time, she was able conduct research exploring the regeneration of annelids and the phenomenon of regeneration in general.  

She explained that research opportunities such as her NSF REU experience helped her to apply what she learned in the classroom to hands-on experiences. In fact, her research conducted in Woods Hole laid down the foundation for her independent research project titled “Making the Cut: An Analysis of Regeneration in Lumbriculus variegatus.” Her research explored the limitation of the full body regenerative properties of the understudied freshwater annelid, Lumbriculus variegatus. 

“This research will not only help provide a baseline of knowledge for studying Lumbriculus in the future, but it also has the potential to apply to regenerative medicine research, such as research being conducted currently on axolotls,” Vequist explained excitedly. 

The level of work she invested into her research earned her two recent awards: the “Sister Mary Lucy Corcoran Award for Outstanding Biology Student in Research” and the “Sister Joseph Marie Armer Award for Outstanding Biology Student in Service.” 

Emma VequistAs she prepares to soon leave the Nest, she reflects on how much value and appreciation she has for UIW. The University’s small class sizes allowed her to develop meaningful relationships with her professors, classmates, and the community itself. “Being able to really get to know your professors and fellow students is such a wonderful thing, and I do not believe I would have been able to develop as many close connections as I have at UIW if I went to another university.” 

On campus, one of her biggest inspirations was her professor and mentor, Dr. Veronica Acosta. Vequist is grateful for just how much effort Dr. Acosta dedicated to her students, the school and her work in general. As her student, Vequist always felt cared for and supported by Dr. Acosta and feels that she is truly blessed to have conducted research with and know her. 


“It is not often that I bring on a student during their first semester, but she demonstrated persistence and a naturally inquisitive nature with poise for asking good scientific questions,” Dr. Acosta praised Vequist. “In the four years that she has now been in the lab, she has contributed to work that has been accepted for presentation at local, state, and national research symposia/conferences.” Dr. Acosta even describes herself as a “proud academic mom.”

“Drs. Acosta and Rinderknecht (Honors Program Director) have done more for her than would be expected of any undergraduate professor,” Dr. David Vequist said of the faculty who guided his daughter on her UIW journey. “My wife and I are very thankful for them.”

While Dr. Acosta served as Vequist’s biggest on-campus role model, her parents serve as an inspiration at home. She described the amount of strength and dedication her mother demonstrated to her when she went back to school after raising three children as a stay-at-home mother in pursuit of a Nursing degree. She says that she aspires to embody her mother’s ethics, kindness, and patience. 

After crossing the stage on Saturday, Vequist will work with the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Kendalia, Texas where she will contribute to the conservation of native Texas wildlife while she waits to hear back about veterinary school admissions. If admitted, she intends to pursue a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and potentially a Ph.D./DVM combined track with a focus on zoological medicine. 

Although it is a bittersweet feeling to leave all that comes with the University she loves, Vequist is hopeful and excited for the next step in her journey. As a parting gift, she offered a bit of advice to future UIW Biology majors. “Do not be intimidated or underestimate yourselves when seeking out opportunities. Even if you do not think you will be accepted to a particular program, just try applying. You will be surprised just how much you are capable of and the potential you have to do something great.”