If it weren’t for Judy Peterson, an advisor in the College’s bacteriology department, Lodi native Marc Rott may have never earned his bachelor’s or doctorate in bacteriology years after he had dropped out of college.
As a professor of microbiology at UW-La Crosse, Rott now shares his technical knowledge with students and tells them: “Keep your options open and believe in yourself.”
When Rott came to UW-Madison in 1974, he was undecided about a major. As a junior, he decided to major in chemistry. When Rott learned he would need three additional semesters of German, Japanese or Russian, he dropped out of school. Rott then got married, had two children, served a masonry apprenticeship and became a bricklayer. “But I always knew I’d return to school,” he says.
Returning in 1984, Rott was still undecided about a major. “I visited “life science” departments, asking if I could get a bachelor’s degree in two years,” Rott says. Then he met Peterson, who convinced him he could do that in bacteriology taking normal credit loads.
The bacteriology major allowed Rott to explore plants and microbes. He took electives in plant pathology where he met Arthur Kelman. “Both he and Jerry Ensign in bacteriology conveyed fascination for their subjects. Both were near the end of their careers but reminded me of young boys who turned over rocks to marvel at the creatures they beheld.”
Kelman suggested that Rott contact microbiologist Jo Handelsman about research opportunities in the Department of Plant Pathology. “She was patient and inspired me to love research. I try to remember her encouragement when I work with my students,” says Rott.
While working on his doctorate, Rott found other mentors in microbiologists Timothy Donohue and Gary Roberts. “Donohue took me on despite the fact I was a single parent with two children and commuting from Lodi.” Rott figures Donohue could have easily told him he was not spending enough time in the lab but instead worked to accommodate Rott’s situation.
“But the most influential person I met was Charles Adair, a “Mr. Fixit” in the department,” says Rott. “We related as fellow tradesmen. As I neared completion of my degree, I told Chuck that I didn’t know what to do next. He suggested I seek a job that made me happy.”
Since receiving his doctorate in 1992, Rott has been doing what he enjoys most, teaching and conducting research with students. Like Rott’s mentors, he now helps students aspire to great things.