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Student Spotlight: Katrina Pfefferle

Some people are born researchers – always investigating, observing, and curious. Others, like Katrina Pfefferle, are made for it. Known for her lively personality and acute sense of understanding complex biological concepts, Katrina perfectly embodies not only the spirit of Caris Life Sciences, but also the attitude and drive of a typical ACU Online student. Holding a deep love for science and culture, Katrina has worked diligently to understand the importance of research while keeping her eyes focused on how her cancer research impacts patients and their care. Earning her Master of Science in Precision Medicine, Katrina is not only excited about how this degree will help in her role within Caris but also how it will shape cancer research as a whole. 

Finding Her Purpose in Science

As a young girl, Katrina knew life wasn’t always meant to be sedentary. It was meant to move, to change. Raised in various states, Katrina lived the life of an average military brat. Moving here and there every so often, Katrina learned quickly how to adjust, adapt, and become accustomed to life in new places regardless of how she felt about it. In essence, that’s what life was about; going with the flow. 

But, when she finished high school in Nebraska, Katrina decided she wanted a change of pace and to stay still in the same state for a bit. She chose to attend Bellevue University and major in something fun: foreign languages. She was always fascinated with other cultures, so she naturally wanted to dive in head first and immediately began learning French, Spanish, and Russian. However, like Katrina predicted, life had a different plan in mind. After taking some time away from school, Katrina returned to college and learned about a new love she had all along: biomedical science. Graduating with her bachelor’s in health sciences, Katrina was simply proud of herself. Not only could she comprehend complex scientific concepts but she also had an innate ability to ask, investigate and seek answers to some of science’s greatest questions. Research was calling for her, and it was up to her to answer that call. 

Soon after, Katrina landed a job with Caris Life Sciences. Learning more about cancer research and the partnership Caris was building with ACU, Katrina remembers hearing about the development of the Precision Medicine program during a staff meeting. It was then that she made a note to herself to enroll the moment it was up and running. This was her chance to keep working toward her goal of becoming a scientist. She wasn’t going to let it pass her by. 

“When they announced the program was up and running, and that they had people enrolled, I immediately reached right out to our Vice President of Lab Operations and asked him for the contact information. Within the week, I was registered and enrolled,” Katrina recalled. 

And while she only saw herself as both a working tech and now graduate student, Katrina was amazed at the opportunities that were offered to her. With the ability to complete her courses online and around her work schedule, Katrina was shocked when she realized that her professors just happened to also be her bosses. Working with people like Dr. Jennifer Ribeiro and Dr. Allison Sherier, Katrina realized that maybe life wasn’t settled just yet. Maybe she was meant for something more, something like molecular science. 

“I always felt like molecular science was maybe out of my league,” Katrina said. “But, it wasn’t until I worked with Dr. Jennifer Ribeiro that I was told I was a good writer. She told me that she was impressed that I have a good grasp on the science I was talking about and that she could tell I had experience in the lab. She basically told me that I had a future in this kind of work and she was actually the person who took me on as her mentee.” 

For the first time, Katrina felt like life was finally making sense. It felt stable. It felt enjoyable. 

Moving Up and Forward at Caris Life Sciences

Currently, Katrina serves as a reagent QC lab manager testing chemicals, processing treatments and profiling tumors alongside her growing team. More specifically, Katrina deals with the immunohistochemistry side of things in the lab; an area she held a particular expertise in for the last 15 years. Now working on more molecular biology projects, Katrina is excited about what her future holds at Caris, especially when she gets finished with her master’s degree. 

One thing is for sure. Katrina doesn’t just want to keep working for Caris. She also wants to continue her education beyond her time at ACU Online. Today, Katrina considers herself a lifelong learner and a self-proclaimed advocate of the program.  

To her, “it’s just that good.” 

“I would love to be able to continue to be involved and help with the program in some way,” Katrina remarked. “Whether it’s, you know, being a TA or something of that nature, I just enjoy the program and my experience with ACU that much. It changed my life.” 

And it’s all thanks to her professors and supervisors. To her, Caris not only gave her a job, but it also opened the door for her to pursue her educational goals and realize her potential. Having the opportunity to work – and study – with other like minded scientists and techs, who are just as passionate about curing cancer and advancing their education, is really what makes her eager to come back to work every day. 

And while she has several other goals for her life, like getting back into running 5Ks or becoming a group fitness instructor, Katrina is happy with how life has treated her so far. The movement is minimal, but her work’s impact is moving. 

Getting a degree at ACU Online means, like Katrina, you never have to slow down when pursuing your dreams. Want to learn more? Visit our website or call 855-219-7300 to learn how you can step into a dynamic future with ACU Online

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