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Q&A with SCC Graduate Laura Peterson, Casey County Native and Current PH.D Candidate at the University of Kentucky

laura peterson standing in a labSomerset, Ky. – Laura Peterson is a Somerset Community College (SCC) graduate who is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Physiology at the University of Kentucky. Peterson touched base with SCC Student Affairs Senior Administrative Assistant Marsha Phelps recently to say thank you for helping her overcome obstacles while she was a student. We invited Peterson to share her story with us. Here are her own words:

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

A: My name is Laura Peterson. I come from a large military family. I have two brothers and two sisters. We moved to Liberty, Kentucky when I was 10 years old. Before that, we lived in Italy and Guam because of the military. I was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school. I am currently 28 years old.

After high school I didn’t plan on attending college, so I got a job at a bakery where I worked for minimum wage until I was 21. I decided that I didn’t want to work to just barely make it by my whole life, so I summoned all my courage and enrolled in SCC with the plan of getting a two-year degree in Radiology. I excelled in my classes and soon began to think about attending a four-year institution to earn a bachelor’s degree in Biology (with a minor in chemistry). I then transferred to EKU where I worked in several research labs and loved every minute of it.

Because of my upbringing, I really enjoy traveling. I just got back from a trips to Alaska and Europe. I backpack quite a lot and was able to go on a two week backpacking trip to Canada last year.

Q: When did you graduate from SCC and with what degree? What were you involved in at SCC?

A: I graduated in May 2012 with an Associate in Science degree with an emphasis in biology. I was a student ambassador at SCC.

Q: Why did you choose to attend SCC?

A: I chose to attend SCC for two reasons. First, the college offered the degree I wanted, and second, I could pay for classes by working as a waitress while I went to school and didn’t have to take out loans.

Q: How do you feel that SCC prepared you for your current position?

A: The classes that I took at SCC built a foundation of knowledge that really helped during my bachelor’s degree at EKU.

Q: Tell me about your position with UK? What is your title? What do you do?

A: I am currently a third year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Physiology. I work in a laboratory researching the little molecular machines that make proteins in your body, called the ribosome. Proteins make up muscle and are essential to health. During aging and in some diseases, the ribosome doesn’t make proteins as well, which can cause muscle weakness. My lab focuses on how to reverse this effect, allowing bedridden patients and the elderly to maintain proper protein production, which keeps them stronger and more healthy.

Q: Tell me about other educational achievements you’ve earned.

A: At SCC I was awarded the Workforce Development Scholarship and was a Student Ambassador. I was on the SCC Dean’s List every semester. At EKU I was on the Dean’s list, the President’s List, and received an award for being on the Dean’s list at least three semesters in a row. Because I went to SCC I was also awarded the Colonel Plus Scholarship to EKU, which is for transfer students with a GPA above 3.75. I also received the Arthur and Frieda Bingham Prize, which is awarded to a biology major who shows exceptional potential, has a history of academic excellence and is not pursuing a pre-medical degree at EKU. Here at UK I was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, which is a highly competitive national award given to only 2,000 students in the nation per year.

Q: Why is education important to you? How has education shaped your life?

A: Having come from rural Kentucky, I felt like I wasn’t smart enough to go to college and be competitive. I assumed I couldn’t make it in higher education, and would never be able to pay for it. However, after enrolling at SCC, I realized that with hard work I could do whatever I wanted – I didn’t have to work a minimum wage job my whole life. I applied for every scholarship available to me, I worked hard and have excelled academically without student debt. A few years ago I was working at a minimum wage job with a high school diploma, and now I recently traveled to Germany to share my research with some of the world’s leading experts. Overall, education opened doors that I didn’t know existed. 

Q: What are your future plans, personally and professionally?

A: After graduation I plan on pursuing a career in science outreach to help bring inquiring minds into the amazing field of scientific research. My passion is showing people how incredible science is!

Q: Tell me about someone at SCC who shaped your educational journey.

A: Mrs. Elaine Kohrman taught my first Anatomy and Physiology course and completely changed my life. Before her course I disliked science classes and avoided them at all cost. After I took two semesters of A&P with her, I changed my major to Biology and now am pursuing a doctorate degree in Physiology. Her caring, patient, fun way of teaching showed me how amazing science can be. She guided me through my education at SCC and is still one of the professors that I look up to most. During my bachelor’s degree Mrs. Kohrman wrote me letters of recommendation for the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates, this program allowed me to be paid to research with the University of Nebraska – Lincoln for a summer under one of the world’s leading experts in algal biofuels. My relationship with Mrs. Kohrman even helped me to get the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship this spring (she wrote letters of recommendation for my application). I’m grateful for all the support I’ve received on my journey thus far.