An adventure in acting, writing and science

Taylor Sklenar knew he would find a major at Iowa State University that would help him achieve his broad career goal: make a positive impact on people’s lives.

This summer, he’ll graduate prepared to pursue that goal, with a major in chemistry.

And English.

And performing arts.

Sklenar, a triple major, said he’d always had a “science brain” and knew ISU’s strength in research would prepare him to take on some of the world’s biggest challenges. Chemistry was interesting and challenging, and he knew he could apply his degree in many different jobs.

But, he also loved English. Inspired by a fantastic English teacher in high school, he added a second major to flex his creative muscles and continue to build his writing skills.

After earning a role in the university’s annual theater performance of “A Christmas Carol” during his first semester of college, he realized how much he loved performing arts. He wouldn’t add it as an official major until his junior year, but he spent the majority of his time at Iowa State on, or near, the stage.

“I was hooked on theater,” Sklenar said, who earned the role of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” the spring semester of his freshman year. “I was getting these great roles as a freshman and I was on stage every night. It was an amazing experience.”

His heavy course load forced him to fine tune his time management skills, think creatively, and be flexible.

“After I was finished performing, I would go back stage and study for my chemistry classes. Then I would be up until five in the morning reading Chaucer. Both degrees were time-consuming, but I enjoyed them too much to chose one over the other.”

Sklenar also had great opportunities for undergraduate research. In addition to lab experience during the school year, he spent the summer between his junior and senior years working with Levi Stanley, an assistant professor of chemistry, on high-level research.

Theater, however, was becoming his passion, and he was good at both directing and playwriting, which he now hopes to pursue professionally after graduating.

“Theater became a more visceral way for me to affect people,” he said. “Story telling affects people’s lives in a quick way. Theater is a way to hold a mirror up to the world, which allows me to reflect the problems of society in a way that research can’t.”

In addition to acting in several plays, Sklenar’s talents led him to directing “Orange Flower Water,” an independent production by ISU theatre students, during his junior year and “Three Days of Rain” during his senior year. After showcasing his work at the Region V Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in the Twin Cities, he was one of 15 students selected from a nationwide pool to attend the national festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. this summer.

“I owe a lot of my success to the excellent faculty in ISU’s theatre department,” he said. “Theater takes a lot of dedication and specificity and our faculty has that. I’ve always been pushed to do my best, creatively.”

After he graduates, Sklenar plans to pursue graduate school and an internship. He said his three degrees will help him in the job market.

“I’m used to looking at things critically and through various lenses,” he said. “All the opportunities I’ve had at Iowa State have helped to shape me into a capable, well-rounded person.”

Without a doubt, he’ll have the background he needs to achieve his goal – making a positive impact on people’s lives.