For Brett Kjellen ’95, Eastern Connecticut State University was not his first choice of colleges. The once-aspiring economics major envisioned himself at a prestigious business school. To appease his father, however, he gave Eastern a shot and wound up discovering his love of biology. Dr. Kjellen is now an optometrist with a group practice in Berlin. “It’s amazing looking back; any success I had was really built on the foundation I got at Eastern.”
Kjellen thinks back to when he was searching for colleges. “My father suggested I go somewhere I could get a little more well-rounded education; ‘if you go somewhere that’s just business, you’re pigeon-holed there.’”
As part of Eastern’s liberal arts curriculum, Kjellen took classes outside of the Economics Department. “I took a human biology class and loved it, so I changed my major. That changed my life. If I hadn’t taken that class I wouldn’t have discovered my love for biology and ended up where I am today.”
The quality of the faculty is what convinced Kjellen to stick around. “You can tell the professors are in love with their subject matter; they care about what they do and they pass it on to you,” he said. “When you get to know them, you want to perform well for them; they’re role models, people you look up to and want to emulate.”
Kjellen recalls working as a teacher’s assistant and conducting Alzheimer’s research closely with professors. “At bigger universities, sometimes you’re not able to get in with professors and do that, but at Eastern, they were instrumental in developing my love of science.”
In a fine arts appreciation class — another seemingly unrelated liberal arts requirement — Kjellen was given some invaluable interview advice: when you step into an office, look around for something to talk about outside of your scholastics.
“When I was going in for my interview for graduate school, the doctor had a racquetball racquet in the corner. I took a racquetball class at Eastern and ended up chatting about it for a couple minutes with the guy. I’m not sure if that got me into grad school, but it helped to break the ice and made the interview go a lot smoother. How could I predict that class would have any bearing on my future? But it did.”
In optometry school, “I felt just as well prepared if not more so as other students from bigger-name universities,” he said. “You never think that Eastern would be such a powerhouse, but it really is, and for the sciences, it’s fantastic.”
In his optometry practice, Kjellen relies on his Eastern education to this day to work on diseases and other challenging ocular cases. “They teach you how to be strict with the scientific method; how to form a hypothesis, how to test it and how to analyze the data. That was great for my research and taught me to think critically. When you’re diagnosing patients — if you’re asking the right probing questions, if you have the right hypothesis in mind — use your physical examination to test that hypothesis. That kind of scientific method they taught me is still paying dividends today.
“When you get part way to your destination and look back on the path that brought you there, you see what was impactful, and Eastern was definitely that,” concluded Kjellen. “I can’t be happier with what I’ve gotten from them.”