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Kara West
More Than I Imagined Seniors reflect on accomplishments and look ahead

Kara West

Graduation year: 2024

High school: Grinnell High School

Hometown: Grinnell, Iowa

Majors: Psychology; Spanish; women, gender, and sexuality studies

Minor: Political science

Activities: Learning Commons tutor, Augustana Baby and Child Development Lab w/ Dr. Lorenz, Augustana Symphonic Band, Augustana Honor Council, Chi Alpha Pi sorority, Camp Kesem, Best Buddies, Emerge, ALIVE

Internship: Big Ten Academic Alliance Summer Research Opportunities Program

Post-grad plans: iDREAM Post-Baccalaureate research program at the University of Iowa: this is a two-year paid research experience where I'll also get to take graduate-level courses for free as a guided transition into a doctoral research program!

Why Augustana?

Augustana first drew me in because of the psychology/neuroscience department's curriculum. 

Compared to other schools I had visited, the psychology major here focused more on elective courses and experiences — that was exciting to me! I felt like I would be taken seriously and given the opportunity to focus on my particular strengths and interests, rather than take mostly generalized courses. 

With the financial aid I was offered, Augie felt like the obvious choice!

Are you where you thought you'd be when you first came to campus?

I came into Augustana expecting to become a clinical or counseling psychologist. However, getting to take the elective courses showed me that my skills and passions might align more with cognitive science. 

I also got to engage in hands-on statistical analysis and research experience from my first year and each year after that, both in classes and in extracurricular supervised research experiences. I'm now on track to pursue a career in cognitive neuroscience research.

Who helped you get to where you are now?

So many people!

First, in the psych/neuro department: I received endless support from Dr. Rupa Gordon in her classes as well as working as her psych assistant for two years. 

Dr. Megan Lorenz invited me into her Augustana Baby and Child Development Lab where I worked on projects related to language acquisition in children as young as 2-3 years old, which I presented with team members at the Midwestern Psychological Association's annual conference in Chicago. 

Kara Meyer started as a departmental assistant in the same year that I started working as a student psych assistant, and her presence has had a really strong impact on me and on several students within the department!

I participated in Augustana Symphonic Band (ASB) and took lessons with Dr. Jim Lambrecht all four years. Doc and the rest of ASB supported me through some tough times and some really great times even though none of my majors/minor overlapped with music.

Finally, I was part of the first ALIVE program with Dr. Jason Mahn and Melinda Pupillo, among others, which pushed me to grow in my vocational discernment.

Peak experience?

My time working as a psych assistant for Dr. Gordon and as a research assistant with Dr. Lorenz was not only incredibly fun. I also learned a lot about how to balance my interests and skills with what would be expected of me if I pursued work as a graduate student and researcher. 

I felt like I was trusted with a lot of responsibilities to grow and learn. I strongly believe that brought me to where I am now as I enter into full-time research in the Iowa Neuroscience Institute with intent to pursue a Ph.D.

What surprised you?

I surprised myself when I took on several leadership positions, such as serving as a co-chair of the Honor Council, serving in elected positions within my sorority, working as a training chair in admissions, and more. 

However, I was more surprised in my last two years when I began to recognize and honor my limits as a person and student and balance these commitments more effectively.

How did you use your Augie Choice?

I used Augie Choice to cover housing costs while I participated in the Big Ten Academic Alliance Summer Research Opportunities Program. I worked under Dr. Amanda McCleery at the University of Iowa in her Mechanisms of Adult & Youth Psychopathology Lab, where I completed a neuroscience meta-analysis.

What will you miss the most?

I think I'll miss "Christmas at Augustana" the most, because it was always a nice change of pace from classes/work/etc., where we got to perform together across ensembles to celebrate the holiday season!

Advice for the Class of 2028?

Find the classes, professors, clubs and jobs that are most engaging to you and best match your skills. Then follow that as far as you can! It's easy to expect yourself to fill an ideal role or future career path, but go where you're called and you'll be on the right track.

"Kara is a remarkable student because she truly embraces the liberal arts in everything she does. She thinks critically about her decisions, reflects on how to always do her best and has been a true leader in the lab. I admire her passion and curiosity, and I know she will do amazing things in her future!"

– Dr. Megan Lorenz, assistant professor, psychology and neuroscience