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WSU Class of '21: Never losing sight of the finish line

From the COLLECTION: Meet some top graduates at Winona State series
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Michael (Mike) Desch

Michael (Mike) Desch was selected as the Spring Commencement Speaker for the virtual ceremony .

This week, the Daily News is shining a spotlight on six graduating students profiled in a Winona State University commencement feature series. The stories, concluding today, highlight students with hopeful, inspiring, or empowering stories of growth and determination during their college career.

For Michael (Mike) Desch, the finish line sometimes felt far away.

Throughout his college career, which began in 2013, Desch struggled with his mental health, which didn’t make the college experience easy. At times he failed classes and once took a semester off from school, but he never gave up.

Desch continued to push through anxiety and depression during his time at WSU and never lost sight of the finish line — no matter how far away it felt.

“I never gave up despite the past and present struggles with mental health,” he said.

Instead of barraging himself with negativity, he accepted the harsh semesters and told himself the next one would be better. Because of his determination to focus on his own mental wellbeing and continue his steps forward, Desch will be graduating this spring with a degree in Applied Computer Science-Bioinformatics. He was selected as the Spring Commencement Speaker for the virtual ceremony – a well-earned honor in recognition of his hard work and success.

“I am incredibly proud of myself,” Desch said.

He added that it’s important for students who are struggling to seek help.

“Too often we distance ourselves from others to a negative effect,” Desch said. “We would do ourselves a favor to realize we are all human and we all need help from others.”

For Desch, his help and support came from a few sources. One was from weekly counseling sessions through a local resource in Winona – which he forced himself to go to even when he wasn’t feeling like it. Other sources of support came in forms of morale boosting from the Warrior Success Center and emotional support from those around him.

Throughout it all, Desch was able to solidify his passion and journey forward.

Before choosing to pursue Applied Computer Science, he went through a range of other majors from Spanish to Chemistry to Biology, finally landing on computer science. He knew he would be able to build off that degree in the future, whether it was in deeper exploration of computer science or in exploring math or science.

Desch further explored the field while working at WSU’s Digital Learning Commons (DLC) where he provided direct technical support to students, as well as configured laptops. His role at the DLC also served as a starting point for his internship at Mayo Clinic, where he worked as an IT Intern in 2019 and became familiar with a handful of common enterprise environments in the industry.

As he further explored where his future career could take him, Desch worked with biology professor Dr. Amy Runk on a research project for the Ramaley Research Celebration where he learned more about interpreting and calculating biological data sets.

“This research was incredibly fun, and the best kind of frustrating,” he said. “I learned so much in the process.”

After college, Desch plans to gain a footing in the computer science industry for a few years and then head back to graduate school for a topic within computer science, math, or bioinformatics.

It may have been a struggle at times, but at last Desch is walking with pride across the finish line.

“I want to share my potential with the world and connect with others who are seeking to do the same; it is a life-defining truth to me that, for as long as we live, our potential is infinite,” Desch said.

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