Seeing things clearly: Emily Reis learned from an early age to look on the bright side
Emily Reis, a senior at UW-Green Bay does not lack confidence or personality. In fact, you may come away with the first impression there may be too much of both qualities in her for one person to contain. But as communication and international business major, a steady supply of both will be in constant demand.
Another first impression—if central casting called for a college student, Reis would fit the role—midwestern and “Wisconsin nice” through and through. Though, typical she is not, and neither is her story.
She grew up in Iowa riding tractors and horses, moving to Manitowoc in 2005. While transitions can often be challenging, she admits to perhaps fitting in too well. “Honestly, in high school, I wasn’t the best student,” she recalls. “I passed, but I prioritized having a lot of fun.”
So when it came time for college, Reis could have had her pick of regional schools, but found the classic “three T’s” (trees, tunnels, toilets) of UW-Green Bay too irresistible.
“All I had to hear was that I had my own bathroom. I think in my freshman year I showered like four times a day. There’s no way I was going to carry all my shower stuff to a public bathroom.” And as for the tunnels? Since leaving the farm, her wardrobe choices had evolved. “I am a huge wardrobe girl. And I care too much about my shoes, so I can’t walk in terrible conditions everywhere.”
True, lugging conditioner down the hall or a pair of muddy Zara sandals may not constitute Phoenix-level adversities to overcome. But Reis’ rise to attend college as a human bio major and aspire to become a pediatric ophthalmologist was not an easy path. “I was born with cataracts.”
She was five and a half before being diagnosed. What followed then, between the ages of six and eight, were numerous doctor visits and surgeries. She wore an eyepatch as part of the healing process. Now her left pupil goes to the left and the right pupil points upward. But she continues to look on the bright side. “Luckily, it’s only noticeable when I shine a flashlight on it. But I can see, and that’s what matters!”
Shining at college also brought new challenges beyond just getting to class. “My first-year G.P.A. was a 1.4 because I was having a whole lot of health issues.” In this case, it wasn’t the dreaded “freshman 15” but a severe case of acid reflux. “It was super extreme.”
She also came to a realization about her major. “I took science courses in high school and I loved it. I took one class in college and it just didn’t click. I said shoot—what now? I’ve been wanting to do this since I was five.”
Reis’ sophomore year was not just a search for a major but a search for herself. “I was going to be a business major, follow in my dad’s footsteps. Then accounting happened.” While chemistry and accounting are classic “dream killers” of many an aspiring college student—attending a classic liberal arts university also affords the opportunity to forge a new path.
She also realized that finding that path required simply to keep going and not give up. “Not that I was ever really lost, but I was just kind of standing there in a pause moment. What the heck am I going to do?”
Then Reis found her calling—talking and meeting people. “I’ve always been a talker. I love giving speeches and I love to travel. So, communications and international business.”
Now with a G.P.A. above 3.0 and plans to study abroad, Reis reflects on the lessons she’s learned not from a textbook or lecture, but from teachers who took a personal interest in her.
“Shauna Froelich is a professor that has really influenced my college experience. Not only has she taught me to give speeches, but she has also taught me the most impactful life lessons that have shaped me to be who I am today.” Which is a very determined and independent person.
“I like making my own decisions and my own path. There are so many different paths one person can take. I thought I was going to be an eye doctor, then major in business, but now here I am—giving speeches as a communications major. There’s all the basic knowledge about your choices, but in the end, it’s up to you.”
Anything else? “Yeah, rise from the ashes!”
What’s keeping you up at night?
I don’t worry about worrying. I come up with solutions. What really keeps me up at night are my friends on Snapchat and Facetime.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Seeing people. Honestly, I am so extroverted that I enjoy being around people. I don’t even have to talk to them. Just go do my homework at a coffee shop. I genuinely enjoy getting ready in the morning!
What’s the last lesson life taught you?
To be optimistic. You can get so much more out of life by just being optimistic. Like applying for the London school. I didn’t stress out if I was going to get in, how I’m going to get a plane ticket, or where I’ll live. Things are going to play out as they are. It’s just life taking its course. If it doesn’t work out, then I come up with another plan.
How has education opened doors for you?
Education gives me choices. In one class, for my assignment, I could either write a paper or attend Lambeau Internship Draft Day. I chose draft day so I could talk to people instead of writing a paper. In the end, every single person I interviewed wanted to hire me!
How has education leveled the playing field?
Education teaches us, but it’s the professors who really want to help you. It’s more than just paying for an online course. It’s all about the degree, but you’re also working with a teacher who wants to spend the time to walk you through stuff.
What do you think is higher education’s biggest challenge?
For me, it was coming from a high school where I was very popular to a college where no one knew me. It was so strange. I felt so little. It took me a little while to realize college students don’t care about all the stuff that seemed so important in high school like what you wear that day.