Senior Spotlight: Natalie Gilpin

Natalie Gilpin Senior Spotlight graphic.

Natalie Gilpin, a senior majoring in health science on the pre-professional emphasis track, has known that she wanted to be an optometrist since the seventh grade. Now, with graduation on the horizon and an acceptance to Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Gilpin credits Mizzou with being instrumental to her success. 

“I have truly been here for the academics,” she said. “That’s something I’ve always been really passionate about and I feel that has served me super well. This is an education that you wouldn’t get in other places.”

Gilpin remembers that moving to Mizzou from her small high school in Buffalo, Missouri, felt like a big jump. However, she says her involvement in Honors College courses helped ease the transition by fostering close relationships with her professors. 

“Every Honors class I’ve had, I’ve had a pretty direct relationship with every one of those teachers,” she said. “I feel like that makes such a huge difference in my own learning and makes me more excited to go to class. It just makes it so much better.” 

One of Gilpin’s favorite courses was “Education Across the World,” an Honors class taught by Stephen Whitney, an associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development and Honors affiliate faculty. During each class period, students in the course would Zoom with students from Colombia to gain an understanding of their culture and learning. 

“Dr. Whitney always told us that learning isn’t something that comes to an endpoint,” she said. “You’re always going to be kindling that lifelong joy and wisdom – that always really stuck with me.” 

Gilpin adds that Honors courses have only added to her experience in her major.

“I’ve been able to take a lot of my health science classes for Honors,” she said. “Being an Honors student gives me a lot more motivation to show up for class and really get something out of it more than just what’s on paper.”

This semester, Gilpin was enrolled in Honors “Medical Pharmacology” with Alan Parrish, an associate professor in the MU School of Medicine. In the course, Gilpin presented to the class about wet macular degeneration for a class assignment where students got to choose their topic.

“I appreciate getting to learn about different medications now, as this will help me be a step ahead in my optometry school journey,” she says. “Dr. Parrish is an excellent teacher – probably the best teacher I’ve had – and he breaks down these difficult pharmacology topics into something that’s understandable so it’ll be useful for us.”

On campus, Gilpin led students as a Summer Welcome Leader in 2022 and as a STEM Cubs volunteer in 2023. STEM Cubs is a program put on by Mizzou once a semester that seeks to expose elementary students, especially those within historically underrepresented communities, to hands-on STEM activities. Gilpin has also learned directly from professionals in Pre-Optometry Club and Pre-Medical Society. 

She has worked as a writing tutor at the Writing Center since her junior year, a position she qualified for by taking the Honors Theory and Practice of Tutoring Writing Seminar. Having the chance to tutor students has been one of Gilpin’s favorite things about Mizzou – and she says it has more in common with her major than you might think. 

“I feel like being a writing tutor and seeing patients at the optometrist is really similar in a lot of ways,” she said. “Each student comes in with such different skills and you have to adapt to that quickly. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that just sitting down talking with someone and showing that you care about them goes a long way. I feel like sometimes we need to come back to those kinds of things.”

Beyond the classroom, Gilpin has also gained hands-on experience working as an optometric technician at Becvar Optometry and emphasizes how important the hands-on experience has been for her.

“Some things look good on paper, but doing it is another,” she said. “I feel like that experience has been so great because I get direct patient care. I’ve been there three years now and I love working with the patients and the doctors.”

Aaron Harms and Darcy Holtgrave are the two mentors Gilpin would most like to thank for the impact they’ve had on her Mizzou experience. Holtgrave was Gilpin’s first Honors College advisor at Mizzou and encouraged her to take the writing tutoring class with Harms, the director of the Writing Center.

“They’ve both helped me out a lot,” she said. “They just truly are such great people and they care about the tutors so much.” 

As Gilpin looks toward the future and her move to Florida, she’s excited for her next steps. 

“As a physician, I feel like it’s important to be able to work with so many different kinds of people with different backgrounds and different expectations of what comes out of their health care,” she said. “I feel like moving across the country will help me get a whole new perspective of people and I feel like it’ll be really valuable.”

Gilpin credits Honors with allowing her to stay invested in her learning experience. 

“I would say that I’ve always loved learning in general,” Gilpin said. “But I feel like Honors has helped me hold on to that. I feel like sometimes it’s really good to come back to why you’re doing this, and there’s a lot to be said just about the learning process – I feel like that’s so important.”