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May 04, 2022

By Rebecca Mohr, Capital University Communications Manager

Twenty-Seven Years in the Making: Capital Student Celebrates Academic Milestone

In 2018, it was time for Karen Kanke to go back to school. With a 27-year gap between high school and college, Kanke will graduate from Capital on May 7, 2022, with a degree in Biology.

A member of the Women’s Tennis Team for four years and a leader within multiple student organizations, Kanke focused on embracing every opportunity that presented itself during her time as a student.

“The sky’s the limit,” said Kanke. “While I’m here, I’m going to try everything that I can.”

Before Kanke was a Capital student, she was a mom dropping her son off at his music lesson at the Conservatory of Music. After Kanke graduated high school, she was accepted to Bradford School but put her plans on hold after a last-minute financial decision. Instead, she entered the workforce and worked her way up to leadership positions at multiple companies. After getting married and having children, she decided to stay home and homeschool her boys. Fifteen years later, she was looking forward to what came next.

“I was bringing my son to campus once a week, which meant that I was walking around campus once a week. I started thinking that I could see myself as a student. This was my next life transition. Do I go back to work full time in an office, or do I finally go to school?” Kanke asked herself.

Though the transition back to the classroom was tough at times, Kanke navigated the challenges with a perspective few students have.

“It was kind of a big shock to the system, especially the first year getting used to the schedule, due dates, and assignments. I had more than one meltdown,” she said. “I tried to encourage my fellow students. It’s only a grade, and you can always improve with the next one. There’s always room for improvement.”

Getting involved with student organizations was something Kanke felt very passionate about during her time as a Capital student.

“I’m part of the Asian American Alliance. That was one of my first-year experiences I had. I went to their Lunar New Year event. I joined the Life Science Organization and was able to get inducted into Beta Beta Beta,” said Kanke. “This year, I went out for a co-ed fraternity, Phi Beta. It was one of those experiences that I wanted to have. I wanted to see what it was like.”

An interest sparked by her son’s homeschool curriculum prompted Kanke to pursue biology as a pathway to get into healthcare.

“When I decided to come to Capital, I had a plethora of interests to choose from for my major. I looked at what’s a growing field and healthcare was what jumped out to me,” said Kanke. “I really enjoyed specialized biology – microbiology and genetics. Over the last two years, I’ve worked on five research projects.”

With every hour spent in the lab, Kanke’s dream was closer to becoming reality.

“When I homeschooled my boys, I had neighbors and friends who needed home healthcare help. I worked with the elderly for 13 families, and I’ve seen a lot of degenerative diseases that are typically related to age, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” said Kanke.

“We always ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. I want to be that scientist who finds the cure or treatment for Alzheimer’s, or part of the team that finds the missing link to help understand Parkinson’s.”

While she’s hesitant to describe her dream job, Kanke hopes her career will be centered around research.

“I would like to work for a private, for-profit small biology research firm where I could work on research that is novel, developing, and cutting edge,” she said. “I’ve had several professors who have encouraged me to go to graduate school, which 20 years ago might have been a no-brainer.”

An outstanding student academically, and beloved by her classmates and professors, Kanke recently was awarded The Dr. and Mrs. Carl Ackermann Alumni Prize and the Boyd Fund for Undergraduate Scholarship. She also received the 2022 President’s Spirit of Capital Award in recognition of her academic success, leadership, and spirit and loyalty to upholding the University’s mission.

To learn more about Capital’s Biology Department, go to