Adventure, Art and Science Combine for Alumna
From an early age, Colleen Brannen Grant ’98 had an adventurous spirit. That willingness to explore nontraditional studies, try new things, and travel was nurtured at Mercy High School and led ultimately to an interesting and rewarding career in the sciences.
Colleen’s sister, mother and several aunts had gone to Mercy so it seemed natural for her to go there. She has many fond memories of Mercy and all the friends she made. As a student she loved science and especially enjoyed the life sciences in Mrs. Newville’s class.
“ Ms. Heather Newville made discovery fun. I remember looking at pond water under a microscope and being amazed by how much life existed beyond what we could see,” Grant said.
Art was also an important aspect of her school days.
“The best place for me in high school was Mrs. Darrell’s art classroom, especially after school while I waited for my ride. It was such a nurturing environment and a place to be myself,” she added.
A nurturing environment was something she experienced throughout her years at Mercy.
“The faculty was quick to point out successes, building on our confidences to help us succeed in other ways,” she said.
Colleen also feels that the balance between art and science gave her a more complete view of the world. She believes Mercy is doing it right by creating STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) curriculum, which embraces art as a major driver in is program offerings.
Interested in volleyball and cross country, she recalls Sr. Jeanne encouraging her even though she believes she was the worst runner on the team. She eventually became manager.
Ms. Newville also had an impact on what she would study at college. She pursed Horticulture at University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL) after she caught the science bug at Mercy. Colleen earned her Horticulture degree and upon graduation served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Tacoma, Washington. There she worked with people with disabilities who operated farms and sold their produce to local markets.
Still full of adventure and wanting to travel, she decided to move to North Carolina where a friend was living.
Continuing her free spirit approach to life, she obtained her first job by taking a phone book and starting to call nurseries alphabetically in the area. She got to the “c’s” and landed a job at Camellia Nursery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She attended graduate school in Horticulture Science at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh where she became a graduate assistant teaching introductory biology labs. That job led to her current position as Laboratory Supervisor where she manages seven undergraduate teaching labs, assist professors and teaching assistants, and sees about 1,000 students come through each week.
“My background in science and art has served me well here. I support a broad range of courses like animal diversity, field ecology, biological illustration and animal and human anatomy and physiology. I see more and more courses like biological illustration taking the strengths of both disciplines to approach the sciences in a more complete way,” she added.
Her passion for art continues and you can often find her at a pottery wheel creating bowls and mugs. She often donates her creations to the annual FIESTA to support Mercy. She hopes to be able to donate some wheels to the school someday to give others the opportunities she had. She also stays connected to her classmates and they often get together or keep in touch via social media.
“Mercy not only allows you to develop as a whole person; you build strong relationships that last for a lifetime,” she said.
Colleen is also lending her insights to the creation of labs and the development of STEAM curriculum enhancements. For her, the adventure continues.