Running, Research, and Music Equals Perfect College Experience for UMO Student

Running, Research, and Music Equals Perfect College Experience for UMO Student

MOUNT OLIVE- Aki Kitagawa of Sasebo, Japan, is a senior at the University of Mount Olive (UMO). Kitagawa made his way to the United States when he was 14 years old, and his family settled down in Wilsonville, Oregon. He quickly adjusted to American life by immersing himself in high school choir and athletics, including track and field and cross-country.

As he approached graduation at Wilsonville High School, Kitagawa received a recruitment call from Trojan head track and cross-country coach Matthew Van Lierop.

“Coach Matt first called me on a Sunday night when I was eating dinner at Denny’s with my family,” smiled Kitagawa. “The recruiting call changed everything.  I was excited to see the school that would enable me to major in a science field while keeping up with my music studies and competing in cross-country and track.” After visiting the science department, the music department, and meeting the team, Kitagawa felt that the University of Mount Olive would be the perfect fit for his college experience.

In the fall of 2012, Kitagawa started his freshman year as a biology major.

“I declared a biology major going into my freshman year, but I soon discovered that I really enjoy chemistry experiments. Dr. Megan Pajski helped me realize my passion for chemistry and convinced me to switch my major. To say the least, she and many other professors have influenced my education,” recalled Kitagawa, who also is pursuing minors in music and biology.

As Kitagawa has transformed in the classroom, he has also transformed on the track. Over the past three years, he has earned numerous all-conference honors while contributing to several conference and regional wins. He earned all-American honors for indoor track and field in 2014 and was named the 2014 Conference Carolinas men’s cross-country scholar-athlete of the year.

“I could not have asked for a better experience of training and competing with the team,” said Kitagawa. “My teammates and coaches are now my family, and my experiences at Mount Olive would not be the same without them. I will forever cherish these great memories!”

The commitment that Kitagawa learned from athletics combined with his chemistry education landed Kitagawa an internship at Oregon Health and Science University. This past summer, he worked with veterinarians who take care of animals in biomedical research.

“During my internship, I learned a great deal about veterinarian medical research.  In addition I was exposed to many fields of frontier research that were conducted at the institution,” explained Kitagawa.

Kitagawa has also been studying electrochemical water treatment. “With the help of my chemistry professors, I am formulating and constructing my own experiment,” he said.

When Kitagawa is not running or researching, he enjoys playing the koto, a traditional Japanese stringed musical instrument. He has performed for numerous UMO concerts and won the UMO student-athlete talent show in 2013.

As Kitagawa prepares for graduation in May, he is grateful for the opportunities at UMO. “At the University of Mount Olive I have been transformed from a learner to a discoverer and researcher. I can’t thank UMO enough for instilling in me a love for research, which I will carry on to my future career. Additionally, the flexibility and willingness of my coaches and professors have enabled me to pursue my passion and interests.”

Kitagawa hopes to attend graduate school at the University of Oregon and pursue a graduate degree in environmental chemistry. In the meantime, he is enjoying his last semester at UMO with his running, research, and music!

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Research Triangle Park, Washington, Jacksonville, and in Smithfield at Johnston Community College.  For more information, visit