Autumn Magnuson
Autumn Magnuson
Like many students, University of Louisville graduating senior Autumn Magnuson changed her major early in her college career. 
Originally interested in engineering, she was planning to study robotics and minor in biology. She hoped to build robots that would help scientists research undersea life.
Autumn Magnuson holds a snake during a field study.
Autumn Magnuson holds a snake during a field study.
“Over time, I realized that biology was really where my passion was,” she said, so she changed her major to biology, specializing in the ecology track. A lifelong love of paleontology translated into an archaeology minor.
The change meant more field trips, such as one where she joined her entomology class at Louisville’s Caperton Swap by the Ohio River to collect insect specimens.
“That was definitely a bit of an adventure,” Magnuson said, smiling (she is always smiling). 
Finding her way at UofL 
Magnuson, 21, is a full-time wheelchair user who actively seeks out creative solutions to problems such as how to get a wheelchair through a swamp to find termite specimens. Due to a genetic condition, she has been using a wheelchair since high school.
She credits her UofL professors, fellow students and the staff of the Disability Resource Center (DRC) with helping her always find a way to pursue her interests.
She said she toured many colleges but it was at UofL where she knew she could thrive.
“Everyone here was very responsive, really eager to help and just the overall community I really like,” she said. “I also liked that it wasn’t super sprawling everywhere. The university itself is fairly compact, which makes things easy.”
She took advantage of DRC services as soon as she became a Cardinal.
“When I first came here, there were difficulties with things like taking tests where you might need to use a pencil because at that time that was a bit more of a difficulty for me, or ‘How can I do experiments when it’s difficult for me to pick up glass objects without breaking them?’ or ‘How do I get to these areas?’ and so the DRC really worked with me a lot on that, figuring out how to make things work,” she said. “Over time we were able to find more solutions.”
When the field work for a class wasn’t possible for her, “they would bring me back the data and I’d do the computational side. So we were always able to find things that would work.” 
Heading to London
In September, Magnuson will enter a master’s program at Imperial College London. Her degree program in taxonomy, biodiversity and evolution means she will be able to take classes in London’s renowned Natural History Museum, appealing to her lifelong interest in museums. Her goal is to earn a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology and become a college professor, devoting her career to “contributing to our understanding of how environments can help shape the evolution of different species.” 
A member of the TriBeta Honor Society for biology undergraduates, Magnuson presented her Senior Honors Thesis research on stingray skeletons at the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference 2023, which this year was held at UofL. Last summer, she conducted research on snake jaws at the University of Texas at Austin, and presented her results at one symposium and two national conferences.
Asked about her favorite UofL classes, Magnuson had a hard time narrowing down the list and gave high praise to the many professors who inspired her. She was especially thankful to Matt Kolmann, assistant biology professor, for being “an amazing and supportive mentor. My experience in his lab has been valuable for my growth in research and as a student.”
She was also an undergraduate teaching assistant for two semesters, giving lectures in classes and helping fellow students in their labs.
“That really taught me a lot,” she said.
At home, the force is with her
Before college, Magnuson, whose father was a pilot in the United States Air Force, moved frequently with her family. Her father has since retired and become a pilot with UPS and the family moved from Maryland to Louisville. She has a younger sibling at Western Kentucky University, and her mother is a choir director. The family has a cat named Sochi (after the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games) and a “Star Wars”-themed room in their basement they enjoy for family time. She is also an avid “Lord of the Rings” fan.
One of her favorite pastimes is 3-D printing. Star Wars trinkets are among her favorite items to make and give away as gifts.
The force is most definitely with her.
Watch the video of Magnuson’s story: