Buffalo State College sophomore Allarae Prigan has dreamed of becoming a marine biologist since she was 5 years old. By high school, she added the dream of swimming competitively in college.
What the Spokane, Washington, resident didn’t know was that a college on the other side of the country would be the perfect place to pursue both dreams. When Mike Kroll, Buffalo State head swimming and diving coach, contacted Prigan about possibly joining the women’s team, she looked into the undergraduate programs Buffalo State offers and discovered her niche: an aquatics concentration in the biology major and an environmental science minor.
“When I first visited campus, I thought, ‘This is the place where I want to spend my undergraduate years,’” she said. “Everything fell into place.”
Once she enrolled at Buffalo State in fall 2020—during the heart of the coronavirus pandemic—the honors student said she felt at home despite being far away from her family for the first time.
“The college is welcoming,” she said. “The swim team is welcoming, and the honors courses have been really enjoyable. In general, I knew I was going to get the education I need to pursue my dream. So far, it’s exceeded my expectations.”
She said the swim team, a close-knit group of 10 women, created an instant family, and her coach inspires her every day.
“Coach Mike is an amazing person,” she said. “He’s so full of energy and enthusiasm. He’s there pushing us to be the best swimmers we can be and also the best people we can be out of the pool.”
Getting involved on campus in other ways also helped her feel at home. Despite being only a sophomore, she’s taken on leadership roles as a resident assistant in Moore Complex and as secretary for United Students Government (USG).
“I like to be very involved,” she said. “I fill all my time with extracurricular activities because it makes me happy.”
Called “Clarifying the Waters,” the project explores ethical attitudes toward salmon populations both in the Pacific Northwest and in New York’s section of Lake Ontario.
“There’s a lot of interesting ethics questions to explore with this project,” Grinnell said. “Allarae is a really bright young woman and a terrific student. She impresses me every week with her work ethic. She does what I ask of her and more.”
Grinnell met Prigan in fall 2020, when she took his Honors Humanities Seminar, which he taught remotely because of COVID-19 precautions at the time.
“When I first visited campus, I thought, ‘This is the place where I want to spend my undergraduate years.’ Everything fell into place. To be able to dig in deep and learn the concepts of biology has been really rewarding for me.”
“Even under remote conditions, Allarae demonstrated dedication,” Grinnell said. “She did all the reading, was engaged in class, and was often the first student to show up on Zoom.”
Grinnell said he was also impressed with Prigan’s persistence and grit. She and her parents drove cross-country and then had to quarantine for two weeks, per coronavirus protocols, before she moved onto campus her freshman year.
Prigan said her interest in aquatics started in kindergarten, when she discovered whales through picture books.
“It grew from ‘I want to be a whale doctor’ to ‘I want to study specific concepts in the ocean,” she said.
The Oceanography course she took in spring 2021 has been her favorite thus far.
“It solidified for me that I want to work in some type of aquatics field,” she said.
After she graduates from Buffalo State, Prigan said, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in marine biology and is considering several schools. “Right now, I’m open to all possibilities,” she said.
And right now, she can see that Buffalo State is paving the way for her to achieve her goals.
“I’ve really pushed forth in my major, after taking just one biology class in high school,” she said. “To be able to dig in deep and learn the concepts of biology has been really rewarding for me.”