For CSU Hockey and Chemical & Biological Engineering friends, lessons come on and off the ice

Vickers and Wilson on the ice after a hockey game, wearing their CSU hockey uniforms.
Justin Vickers (left) and Brett Wilson (right) on the ice after a hockey game.

When sophomore Justin Vickers was transferring to CSU from Stevenson University, he knew he wanted to keep playing hockey. But he wasn’t sure that he could manage it on top of the coursework in Chemical and Biological Engineering (CBE). Department advisor Claire Lavelle mentioned that there was another CBE major playing on the CSU hockey team, senior Brett Wilson. Vickers knew immediately that Wilson was somebody he had to meet. Wilson was a senior, and proof that what Vickers was about to attempt could be done.

The two found they shared more than just a major, and struck up an instant friendship. They’re both defensive specialists on the ice, and both are interested in medical careers. Each chose the chemical and biological engineering major as a versatile alternative to conventional pre-med majors.

The dry sense of humor they share may be another explanation for their quick bond. It comes through in Wilson’s reaction on hearing that another CBE major was joining the hockey team.

“This is awesome,” Wilson recalled thinking. “Finally, somebody’s going to understand how hard it is.”

Staying in balance

Wilson on the ice for CSU hockey in his #4 jersey and helmet with clear face guard
Wilson on the ice for CSU Hockey

Tackling either the CBE courseload or division one hockey would be challenging alone; taken together, the combination is a tall order. But there’s an upside, too. For both men, the hockey team provided camaraderie. It was also an athletic outlet that would be their reward for getting through the long hours of study, providing some balance in their lives.

They agree that there can be magic in letting a weary brain out to play for a bit, too.

“I’ll come back to work on an engineering problem after hockey, and somehow I just have a clear solution,” Wilson said. “If I’d sat there all day, I probably would still be stuck.”

Does studying engineering make them better hockey players? Wilson allows that the focus on problem solving and analysis may give them an edge in some situations on the ice.

Vickers skating forward with the puck in his #9 CSU Hockey uniform
Vickers pushes forward with the puck during a CSU Hockey game

For Vickers, it’s a stretch.

“I’m not too sure about that,” he mused. “But I will vouch for engineering changing the way that you think, understand things, and approach problems.”

“There’s going to be another day.”

Given that they demand so much of themselves, it’s no surprise that Vickers and Wilson each acknowledged stumbling occasionally. Whether it’s a rough day on the ice, a difficult phase in their personal lives, or a disappointing test score, the key is not to let setbacks grow out of proportion.

“Just being able to keep pushing, despite those academic and personal challenges,” Wilson said, “is really what’s important.”

Like many high-achieving students, Vickers had struggled with perfectionism, and this message hit home. “That was something that Brett taught me this last semester,” he recalled. “Not everything is going to be a hundred percent, and you have to be OK with that. There’s going to be another day.”

Looking ahead, looking back

Wilson at work in a laboratory setting. He's wearing nitrile gloves and working with lab apparatus with a test tube rack and printed spreadsheet on the table nearby.
Wilson in the lab, at work on his senior design team’s sublingual epinephrine project.

Wilson’s undergraduate years are coming to an end, and graduation looms. His senior design team has been working on a sublingual epinephrine delivery method. It is an alternative to the expensive EpiPen, for treatment of anaphylaxis.

Wilson considered pursuing a graduate degree in biomedical engineering, but decided to accept an opportunity with Tolmar Pharmaceuticals instead, as an Operational Leadership Development Associate. Vickers has a ways to go before he faces the same choices, but he’s definitely still planning on medical school.

The friends both point at similar highlights in their time together at CSU.

“You feel accomplished, pushing yourself and knowing there are people around who are battling the same things, and professors and everyone who’s there to help you,” Vickers said. “You feel like you’re in an environment that’s going to breed success.”

Wilson agreed, speaking warmly of the connections he’s made and the support he’s received. CBE staff showed up to cheer for the duo at hockey games, and he says he owes a certain professor a signed jersey.

“Playing hockey, we’ve been to a bunch of other schools and traveled to different states,” Wilson said. “CSU has always felt the most like home. There’s a sense of community and belonging here that I’m really going to miss.”