Michaela L. Neal Awarded Student Employee of the Year by the NSEA


Kelsie Hildebrand, General Reporter

Michaela L. Neal, senior at the University of North Dakota, has been awarded Student Employee of the Year for her outstanding work as a STEM Ambassador at the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium. Neal is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and minor in mathematics. She started her journey as a STEM Ambassador in the Fall of 2020. 


“When I gaze into a virtual reality headset or imagine what can be created through game-based online learning tools, I feel as though I am glimpsing the education of the future. It’s an inclusive future that bridges geographic distance and ignites a passion for learning and excelling in STEM, whether in the classroom or beyond,” Neal said in her National Student Employee Association recognition interview.  


Neal shares her experience as a UND Student Employee as being “an enriching opportunity and an absolute blast.” During her time at the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium, Neal and team created a web-based virtual reality escape room curriculum for middle school students.  


Neal reflects on her first-time wearing VR goggles as “surreal,” and she “instantly ‘clicked’ with the creative potential for the technology to visualize our world and our universe at different scales.” Neal exclaims how her experience resulted in becoming a distance student working remotely, instead of a distant student.  


“Being selected as Student Employee of the Year feels like both a culmination and beginning,” Neal said. “I feel so proud to reflect on how much I have grown and all the work products I produced these past couple of years, and I feel so hopeful and enthusiastic about the next steps ahead.”  


In an e-mail interview with Dakota Student General Reporter, Kelsie Hildebrand, Neal was asked what it meant to her to win Student Employee of the Year:  


“Receiving the Student Employee of the Year Award is such an honor and came as a complete shock. I am so grateful to the entire team at North Dakota Space Grant for creating a positive, enriching, collaborative work environment that has helped me truly spread my wings at University of North Dakota. Being able to represent UND at the North Dakota Student Employee of the Year and National Student Employee of the Year levels is especially meaningful because I can share my experience and perspective as a distance student fully engaged in life as a college student. Seeing my profile page in the National Student Employee of the Year publication was surreal and felt like an amazing chance to celebrate this moment and accomplishment alongside each of my fellow 2022 National Student Employees of the Year and reflect on just how fun it can be to pursue student employment alongside one’s studies.” 


Kelsie Hildebrand is a Dakota Student General Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected].