Photo of Cole Brunker '23 in lab

Cultivating Connections

Student Stories
January 8, 2024
Cole Brunker, a December 2023 graduate, cultivated a passion for biology at Fitchburg State.
Photo of Cole Brunker '23 in lab
Tour guide Cole Brunker leading visitors

Cole Brunker recognizes the value of the right fit. Brunker, raised in East Texas, didn’t see college in his future plans as his high school career wrapped up. So he followed in his uncles’ footsteps and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. While there, he met his future wife, who was also in the service.

Brunker did not intend to make a career of military service, however.  “I fixed airplanes in the Air Force, and then I was fixing cars,” he said. 

After his wife’s stint concluded, the couple moved to her native Massachusetts. Brunker found himself looking to broaden his horizons. “I Googled ‘close colleges with science,’ and Fitchburg State came up,” he said.

He visited the campus and liked what he saw, but, now in his mid-20s, wasn’t sure if he’d fit in as a non-traditional student.

“It took a little while to get back into the swing of academics,” he said. And then COVID hit. “Everyone struggled, mental health-wise. That’s when I realized I had ADHD.”

Brunker’s journey was also interrupted by a diagnosis of the autoimmune disease lupus. He took a year off while he sought to get stabilized.

Still, he didn’t want to discard his academic path, and welcomed the support he received as a student veteran from the university. Studying under professors like Erin Rehrig and Chris Picone, Brunker was inspired by their passion for their subject matter, including plant biology and ecology. And by working on campus as a tour guide in the Admissions office, Brunker found himself forging strong connections with his peers.

With his degree in biology with a concentration in environmental science, and a minor in chemistry, Brunker is looking to continue his academic journey with a doctoral program, such as plant biology. From his time at Fitchburg State, he’s learned the kind of academic environment in which he can thrive.

“I need to find someplace where I fit in,” he said.

More than 400 graduate and undergraduate degrees were conferred in December 2023.