When Kailee Clinton-Marikar’s uncle introduced her to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus as a high school junior, the Phoenix native knew she wanted to be a Ragin’ Cajun. However, if not for the University’s online General Studies program, that dream might have slipped through her fingers.
Kailee couldn’t wait to trade in the desert for the bayou, and in August 2013 she waved goodbye to her teary-eyed parents and boarded a plane to Lafayette.
As soon as she began her biology coursework, Kailee was an enthusiastic student and researcher under the mentorship of Dr. Suzanne Fredericq.
“I learned how to extract DNA from curated algae and perform polymerase chain reactions,” Kailee says. “I traveled to conferences with her to Alabama and Portland. She took me aboard the R.V. Pelican for a research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. Later that year, we went to the Florida Keys to collect seaweeds. I felt like I was finally reaching my full potential — something that I never had the opportunity to do.”
Kailee was even one of three students from the United States selected to perform research in Skibbereen, Ireland, as part of the International Research Experience for Students by the National Science Foundation.
Shortly after returning from that once-in-a-lifetime experience, Kailee captured the attention of engineering student Hamsa Marikar, of Austin, Texas.
“I dropped a plate of sweet potato fries on my way back to my seat,” she said. “I was mortified, but the scene had caught the attention of a handsome engineering student who then invited me to sit at his table. From that point on, we were inseparable.”
Although Hamsa completed his degree in 2015, Kailee’s course was derailed when she fell ill and moved back home to Arizona to recover.
“I could no longer travel, work, and take 18 hours of biology courses,” she said. “This was the hardest decision I had ever made.”
Nonetheless, Kailee was confident she would finish her education and set her sights on pharmacy school.
She and Hamsa — whose parents also fell in love on UL Lafayette’s campus — married in 2016 in Phoenix before moving to Austin.
In 2017, Kailee was pregnant with the pair’s daughter, Sabrina Claire, when she saw an email with the subject line: Opportunity for past students to graduate online.
Kailee jumped at the opportunity and got on the phone with Dr. Gail Bonhomme, Associate Dean of University College. Bonhomme helped put Kailee on the path to graduate with a bachelor’s in just nine months.
“I definitely wanted to finish what I started so graduating from UL was important to me,” she said. “I didn’t want to transfer anywhere else.”
At six months pregnant, Kailee began her online coursework.
“I knew that the semester would be incredibly challenging, but I finished the semester strong with the support of my friends, family, and teachers,” she said.
To say she was committed to graduating might be an understatement. Only two days after giving birth to her daughter in November 2017, Kailee was back to her coursework.
“I was even working on assignments while I was in labor at the hospital!” she said.
This year, the biology buff has logged 250 volunteer hours in the pharmacy of Samaritan Health Ministries, a nonprofit medical clinic for uninsured patients, and became a certified pharmacy technician.
In October, she interviewed as an early decision applicant for the Doctor of Pharmacy program at UT Austin. The process required Kailee to respond to six scenarios in front of six different professors.
The following week, she was accepted.
“The promise that I would complete my bachelor’s degree at UL upon matriculation helped me secure my place in this highly competitive and selective program,” she said.
Kailee’s coursework ranged from focuses in global health, stress management and women’s health to Cajun music.
“I had never really heard any Cajun music until Dr. Dewitt introduced me,” she said.
Now, Rockin’ Sidney’s classic “Don’t Mess with my Toot Toot” remains a family favorite.
“When (Sabrina) was born, we would turn on ‘Don’t Mess with my Toot Toot’ to stop her from crying,” Kailee said. “To this day, she loves ‘her’ song and dances along to it!”
But the highest point of family pride for Kailee is joining her uncle and a long line of Hamsa’s family members as University of Louisiana at Lafayette graduates.
“Though I am not the perfect, cookie cutter student I have worked very hard to complete not only my academic and career goals but also my life goals to become a wife and a mother,” Kailee said. “I can’t wait to have my name on a brick on the Walk of Honor.”
Learn more about how an online General Studies degree could be your career launch pad by visiting the University of Louisana at Lafayette Online Programs information page or by requesting more information.