Photo of Caroline Amelse

I went back to my roots, completely inspired by my experience in Professor Voorhees’ class.

The B that Caroline Amelse earned on a geology exam in 2009 was certainly not her best grade, but it was the grade that she is most proud of.

When she started at Waubonsee Community College that year, Amelse was a general science student. Waubonsee was a place where she could explore her academic interests at an affordable price before committing to a four-year college. She was able to do just that and learn a great deal about herself while she also learned about the sciences.

Amelse met Associate Professor of Earth Science and Geology David Voorhees while at Waubonsee. He saw remarkable potential in her and when he saw her interest in geology, he guided her to many experiences that would enhance her education and put her on the path to being a successful geologist. She was able to do independent research projects, field and lab work, scientific poster competitions and a trip to a national conference. As great as those experiences were, the most important part for Amelse was the mentorship she received from an accomplished scientist.

“From the very start, she demonstrated a level of passion, commitment and skill that I do not see very often,” said Voorhees.

Though her academic experiences that year were remarkable, they were not the most memorable things in her life during that time. It was during this time that Amelse was in an abusive relationship that consumed her energy throughout the year and ended in a violent encounter the day before the geology exam. Voorhees’ faith and confidence in her inspired Amelse to go to class after a night in the hospital and take that geology exam. This is why the B that she received is the grade she is most proud of.

With a solid academic background in science from Waubonsee, Amelse transferred to the University of Hawai’i at Manoa in 2010. She chose this because of the college’s Geology and Geophysics Department. She was most interested in the emphasis on geohazards there, specifically volcanoes, tsunamis and earthquakes. Despite her deep interest in science, however, she switched majors after a semester in Hawai’i and graduated from there with Bachelor of Social Work in 2013. 

Armed with this degree, Amelse moved to Rhode Island where she worked as a child and family caseworker. As rewarding as this work was, it was not entirely fulfilling.

“I felt like I was missing something in my career choice. I did a lot of self-exploration and found myself constantly reminiscing about how happy I felt at Waubonsee where I took chemistry, math and two other classes that really made me feel great.”

Those classes were geology with Voorhees and oceanography with George Bennett, Adjunct Faculty – Mathematics and Sciences. She came to realize that the thing she felt was missing was a career based on her math and science strengths.

“So, I went back to my roots, completely inspired by my experience in Professor Voorhees’ class.”

In this case, going back to her roots involved pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Geology at the University of Rhode Island. While there, Amelse did an independent research project that was recognized by the American Geophysical Union and another project that was funded by NASA. Because of her research there, the university featured her as a “Big Thinker.” She graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 2017.

Amelse was accepted at more than a half dozen doctoral programs, to include the University of Washington with a Valle Scholarship, their most prestigious scholarship. She has decided, though, to accept a job as a geologist at Arcadis in Chicago. This position will allow her to fulfill her dream of working on engineering geology projects in developing countries. Arcardis does work around the world, including in many developing nations. She will apply for Arcadis’ “Global Shapers” program, which allows people to work on projects abroad.

Voorhees summarized her talent and commitment.

“[She] is an individual who will succeed in most any career that she decides is aligned with her interest. She is the kind of student that every professor hopes for.”

Waubonsee offers many opportunities for students in STEM fields. Visit to learn more.