AIKEN --- Life lessons of adulthood and motherhood already set 33-year-old Michelle Killian apart from her peers at the University of South Carolina Aiken. But her work ethic made her stand out to professors as a nontraditional student.
Last summer, the mother of four was in Pittsburgh presenting undergraduate research to 20,000 members of the analytical chemistry community, something USC Aiken professor Dr. Chad Leverette had never seen.
"She epitomizes what we want in our students," Leverette said. "She's responsible and dependable, but she also doesn't let anything drop to make her life easy."
Killian, known as Mickie by her classmates, was nominated by Leverette as the university's outstanding senior. She will speak at tonight's commencement ceremonies, where she is graduating summa cum laude with a degree in chemistry.
She's modest about her accomplishments, which include being named a Magellan Scholar, ranking in the 90th percentile or higher on all national exams and showing the best undergraduate work in her field at the South Carolina Academy of Science meeting this past year.
Killian didn't intend to put off college. After graduating from high school in Idaho, she got married and had a family -- Jory, 16, Zachary, 12, Kyra, 11, and Teddy Jo, 9. When they moved to South Carolina six years ago, Killian and her husband, Travis, called a family meeting and everyone was in favor of her pursuing a chemistry degree.
Although it's been a struggle sometimes, Killian said everyone took on additional responsibilities and overall it's been fun.
"I think that any working parent has to deal with that at some point, especially moms, because they are the ones who usually do all of that."
Killian said her children haven't missed out on anything by her not being at home full time.
"Being a family is being part of a team. I tell them Dad's job is to earn money, mom's job is to go to school and their job is school, as well," she said.
Killian will continue her research at USC Aiken for Savannah River Nuclear Lab, which includes developing and understanding variables for sensors for small amounts of explosives or radioactive materials. Next year she'll apply to graduate schools.