Chemistry major named Hill Distinguished Senior

karen butlerAs a young girl, Karen Butler ’14 thought the periodic table was “the most fascinating thing in the world.” That early love for science stuck with Karen, who was recently named the 2014 Robert L. Hill Distinguished Senior.

She will be leading her class at commencement exercises on May 17.

A chemistry major with minors in biology and psychology, Karen will be attending Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall to work on her master’s in forensic toxicology. Choosing a graduate program and school proved to be difficult; she was accepted to every program she applied to, including PhD programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Vanderbilt University.

But Karen is fairly confident she would like to help medical examiners determine cause of death. “When I was a little girl, I loved reading Nancy Drew,” she said.

A forensic science class Karen took with Dr. Priscilla Gannicott, professor of chemistry, and Dr. Allison Jablonski, professor of biology, helped hook her so the VCU program seems her best option.

“I kind of love everything,” she said. “It’s a problem.” Karen said she is grateful for her liberal arts training at LC. Though she loves science, she didn’t want to stop speaking French or give up literature. “I’m taking intro to dance right now and it’s so fun,” she said.

A native of nearby Madison Heights, Virginia, Karen said she always wanted to go to the College of William and Mary until she took a philosophy class as a senior in high school with Dr. Tom Brickhouse, a scholar on Aristotle.

She says she never regretted her decision to come to LC, especially because it kept her close to her family. “They’re my biggest support system,” she said. “They’re my rock.”

Karen said the close relationships with her professors would have been difficult to duplicate anywhere else. “Our entire department is so supportive of its students,” she said.

For her senior research project, Karen has been working to find the major fragrance components of an Asian variety of witch hazel with Dr. Gannicott and Dr. Nancy Cowden, associate professor of biology. She had to choose an Asian variety because the native species didn’t bloom in time for her research. The tree she used grows in Dr. Cowden’s yard.

“They are the best,” Karen said. “Dr. Gannicott is the best advisor I could have ever asked for. She’s been such a strong role model for me. She’s always there for me. Dr. Cowden’s been the exact same way.”

She said she has also loved being a PASS (peer assisted student sessions) leader for chemistry and a lab assistant under the watchful eye of Dr. Bill Lokar, associate professor of chemistry. “Dr. Lokar is also an amazing influence in my life,” Karen said. “Being a PASS leader is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in college.”