17:04 PM

Chemistry Professor Masterminds Animal Crossing ‘Island’ Party for Graduating Senior Sophia Guerrero

Jumping into the fun, Chemistry Associate Professor Crystal Young went with the flow when her weekly research meetings via Zoom would turn to other activities. Several of her students (in lecture and research) play Animal Crossing New Horizons, a game on Nintendo Switch. It was natural for their conversations to drift toward the game.

These playful end-of-the-class chats sparked an idea for Young when she was trying to find a way to collectively celebrate - in the time of COVID-19 social distancing - one of the research student’s 2020 graduation.

“Senior Sophia Guerrero’s contributions to our research group have been profound,” Young said. “She deserved recognition, and I wanted to do something. Since I was also playing this game, I thought that it might serve as an appropriate platform for a graduation ceremony.”

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

For the uninitiated, Animal Crossing: New Horizons takes place in real-time. The game is a life-simulator. The latest entry in the series, New Horizons, has you sailing to a deserted island after purchasing a holiday package from a raccoon called Tom Nook. The player can explore the island in a nonlinear fashion, gather and craft items, catch insects and fish, and develop the island into a community of anthropomorphic animals.

An Island Graduation Party like No Other

So using her creative talents, Young masterminded a graduation-themed island party to be remembered.

“The game offers certain items that were perfect - podiums, seating, caps and gowns etc., but designing the event requires some creativity - spelling out UST in flowers as she arrives, bringing in the fountain, statues and brick to show the UST campus aesthetic and playing "Pomp and Circumstance" on the island tunes,” Young said.

“I recreated UST logos using the game’s customization tools to display on outfits and as decorations for the ceremony. After setting the stage, I invited students and the honoree to attend the event. I gave a speech via zoom, and presented her with the in game diploma as part of the ceremony. We celebrated with cheering and party poppers and of course showered the graduate with in game gifts! I have left this area as a memorial for other students to visit and come enjoy a little bit of UST from home.”

When the invitation came across her email, Guerrero was surprised.

“I was thinking it was going to be a small celebration,” she said. “No way did I imagine that she would put so much time and effort into it. From the detailed UST themed decorations on her ‘island’ to the speech she gave to me via Zoom while we were on the game— it brought me to tears and I got really emotional. Since I’ve been playing the game for a couple of months now, I know how much time it must have taken for her to prepare everything for me.”

UST Solidified her Career

A great send-off wasn’t the only gift she received from Young, who also helped shape her future job prospects, graduate school and more.

“Participating in Dr. Young’s research allowed me to not only gain research methods and leaderships skills, it also taught me how to work well with like-minded individuals,” Guerrero said. “Also, without this opportunity, I would have never realized how interesting formulation chemistry can be; so much so that I would like to pursue a career in it.”

UST Professors Know Your Name

University of St. Thomas is known for its small classes and personalized attention where professors not only know your name but go the extra mile even during a COVID-19 pandemic. Not having the opportunity to march at a commencement ceremony, Guerrero got something unique and special and personalized to her.

“It was a celebration that I will never forget, and I’m so grateful that I had such a great and thoughtful professor during my last semester at St. Thomas,” Guerrero said.