Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Kara L. McClain (2016)

My First Generation Story

As a first generation college student, I am learning to navigate the intricacies of a graduate level education. I have gained exposure to graduate level research, and opportunities to conduct and present research as an undergraduate. The McNair Scholars Program at IUP gave me the tools and confidence necessary to begin my journey in research. This program is designed for first generation college students from low-income homes, and/or underrepresented minorities, and fosters student-mentor relationships in research and collaboration. Prior to the program, I had limited knowledge of the educational, professional, and funding opportunities available at the graduate level. I have learned that it is not only possible for me to obtain a combined M.D./ Ph.D. with my background, but it is necessary for the fulfillment of my professional and intellectual potential.

By working directly with doctors as a student nurse, I identified my desire to gain the responsibility and leadership skills that define the physician role. While caring for my own patients, I witnessed as doctors created plans, and with those plans, change lives. Yet, for those patients who are ill-served by what is currently available in medicine, I became desperate to bridge the gap between basic scientific research and patient treatment. I intentionally sought out research experience applicable to my world of medicine. Therefore, I began undergraduate research with the pretense that I would discover whether my presumed excitement for scientific discovery translated into reality, and it did.

Since beginning my research on tick-borne disease as an undergraduate, I have become a resource to my community. I have encountered friends suffering from chronic Lyme disease symptoms; one of which had to sacrifice a professional career in cycling due to his battle with the disease. During my experience in the medical field, I cared for a patient suffering from Lyme carditis. He spent his days hooked up to a cardiac monitor and IV antibiotics, having lost independence due to a single tick bite. As I encounter yet another person struggling with this disease, I am empowered to continue searching for answers in lab. I have learned to translate my passion for patient care into my efforts in scientific discovery and the improvement of public health knowledge.

As I continue to challenge myself by exploring interests that go beyond a traditional undergraduate curriculum, I have discovered the path to a fulfilling career. I have gained skills and appreciation for interdisciplinary collaboration; whether between nurses and doctors in hospitals or researchers in the lab. As a first generation college student and an aspiring physician scientist, my life experiences have taught me the value of challenging limitations. I believe that my blend of clinical and research experience, along with my foundation in sciences, will directly translate into success at both graduate and professional levels.

About the Student

Kara McClain Resized

I am a first generation college student from Grove City, Pennsylvania. As a current nursing student, I have learned to balance over 200 hours of clinical experience per semester while also completing the pre-requisite classes necessary for medical school. I plan to pursue a combined M.D./Ph.D., which will provide me with the training necessary to translate research into clinical practice.

Student Stats

Name: Kara L. McClain (2016)
Age: 21
Year in School: Junior
Major: Nursing
Favorite Course: Biology 221
Dream Job: Medical Researcher

About the School


IUP combines the academic opportunities of a large university with the highly personalized and intimate learning-centered environment of a small college.  

Almost 14,000 undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled in our accredited and nationally recognized programs, enjoying traditional and nontraditional classroom experiences, engaging in research and service activities with their faculty mentors, becoming lifelong learners, preparing for rewarding careers and productive lives, and developing leadership skills for effective citizenship.



  • Kellee Edmonds
    Vice President of Communications and Public Relations
    (202) 478-4662