Life After LEAD: Miekyn Cotton, ’18

We catch up with one of our former LEAD Scholars.
By Miekyn Cotton, ’18

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I GREW UP IN A RURAL MICHIGAN TOWN, spending a lot of time surrounded by water and getting messy outside. My grandmother lived next to Bean Creek, and I spent most of my formative years catching frogs, crawfish, and the occasional minnow. When I wasn’t playing in the creek, I was spending time at one of the nearby lakes. When I wasn’t in the water, I was watching “Animal Planet.” All this led to a love of the water and every creature that called it home. I was convinced I’d be a veterinarian.

But the older I got, the less time I spent in the mud and the more time I spent with my peers. When it came time to search for a college, I feared the unknown ahead of me. I still loved science and helping others but had no clue what to do with it. I kind of wanted to be a doctor, but when the choice confronted me, I was unsure. I went out on a limb and applied to engineering schools. U-M was my top choice, and after getting in, I was lucky enough to receive four-year scholarships from not one, but two programs: the Michigan STEM Academies Scholars and the LEAD Scholars.

Being a LEAD scholar gave me so many opportunities that I will be forever thankful for. Most importantly, it allowed me to participate in student organizations that I loved. I was a member of U-M’s Bioastronautics and Life Support Systems team, where I helped design a wastewater system that converted astronaut urine to plant fertilizer. It led to me applying for an internship with the Environmental Protection Agency, where I fell in love with environmental policy, so much so that, on the first day of the job, I read the entire Clean Water Act. Before my internship, I had no clue just how many rules, systems, and people worked to protect our natural world. It gave me the perfect opportunity to aid the health of my community while also enjoying the outdoors.

Upon graduating, I found the perfect job as an environmental engineer for the Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy. I cover wastewater permitting for five southeastern counties, three of which I’ve called home: Lenawee, Hillsdale, and Washtenaw. I am also involved in stormwater permitting for urbanized areas around the state. In the spring and summer months, I get to step away from my desk and enjoy fieldwork. I inspect rivers and streams for evidence of contaminants generated from runoff and discharges related to municipal wastewater treatment discharges. Additionally, I help protect watersheds from the hydrological effects of development.

I am so proud to be protecting the waters where I grew up swimming and playing. I want to thank the people who helped me become who I am, including those who gave to the LEAD Scholars program. I can’t wait to continue giving back.


The LEAD Scholars Program provides scholarships to black, Latino, and Native American students who have been accepted into U-M. Visit umalumni.com/LEAD to learn how you can support the program and, thus, help create a more diverse campus.

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