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Ag Class of 2019: Justin Couetil

Every Purdue student has a story. Each individual brings distinctive experiences, perspectives, and skills to the University, and each takes away something different. Commencement is the shared milestone in that process. We’re celebrating the collective achievements of the Class of 2019 by telling the unique stories of some of its outstanding members. Today, meet Justin Couetil, Biochemistry.

- Justin Couetil, Biochemistry.

“The biochemistry program is a gem inside the College of Agriculture,” Justin Couetil, a biochemistry senior, said. “People are often surprised it’s housed in Agriculture, but it makes a lot of sense.”  

Couetil, who will graduate in May and recently won the distinguished G.A. Ross Award, started working in a Purdue biochemistry lab while still in high school. He lives in West Lafayette and both his parents are Purdue professors. 

“As a child of academics my position was privileged,” he added. “I had a strong sense of identity when it came to school and just felt very comfortable here. I’ve always wanted to go into the medical profession, but you wouldn’t know that from my class schedule. I studied business, the social sciences and the hard sciences.”  

The breadth of courses within the College of Agriculture and the university allowed Couetil to craft a course of study that was directed but not narrow, intentional but still creative. “The ultimate mission here is to build engaged and interested members of society. You won’t find many places where people are just here to help you and people are competitive only in the sense that they want you to be better.  

Couetil also had the opportunity to engage in self-directed research within his major. The work he’s pursued in the laboratory of Renewable Resource Engineering (L.O.R.R.E) under his adviser, Michael Ladisch, focused on enhancing speed and accuracy of bacteria detection in food. The current technology used by industry and the government isn’t sensitive enough and doesn’t sample representatively. Additionally, it takes longer than it needs to. Ladisch works on many different solutions to this problem and last year Couetil received a grant to further this research.  

Using a new, hallow filter recently developed at Harvard University, Couetil studied how effective nascent membrane technologies are in terms of representatively and efficiently testing food products for bacteria. Directing his own study was grueling and at times frustrating but ultimately, Couetil said, it helped him cement the direction he wants to take his career. “Going into some field of medicine was always a constant in my life, but figuring out how to get there was always in flux.”  

In the fall, Couetil will begin a medical degree at the Indiana University School of Medicine. He hopes to be based at the West Lafayette campus to continue his work with Ladisch. He added he’s not self-conscious about wanting to stay in the town where he attended high school and college. After all, Couetil said, why would he want to leave a community that has been so generous in providing him with opportunities and support?  

Reflecting further on his time at Purdue, Couetil said anyone that comes to the College of Agriculture and Purdue with a passion, even an unfocused one, can succeed here.   

“In the end I think success really comes down to being kind, working hard and finding the people that will support you and advocate for you,” Couetil continued. “It’s a rare thing to be able to show up and have people recognize your talent or your passion, the thing that speaks to your inner compass. But here people do.”  

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