Name: Amber Koenig

Hometown: Howards Grove

Title: Ph.D. graduate student, organic chemistry

Graduate School: University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Until just a few months before graduating from high school, Amber planned to attend the University of Minnesota – a mammoth school with more than 50,000 undergrad students.

Amber had taken an organic chemistry class at Lakeland during high school, and knew she would be embraced while being challenged if she chose to continue her education here.

“I think choosing Lakeland is probably the best decision I ever made,” she says today. “At Lakeland I was far more than just a number. I felt like I was truly part of a family, which was a unique experience that I would not have had anywhere else. Every faculty member, even those outside math and science, genuinely cared and provided so much guidance. From the time I stepped foot on campus, everyone was constantly giving me advice and opportunities to help prepare me for my career goals. Without these amazing opportunities I don't think I would have been nearly as prepared or as successful in graduate school.”

Indeed, Amber thrived at Lakeland and continues to soar after graduating with a double major in chemistry and math in 2011. She recently earned a prestigious three-year National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in support of her doctoral work at North Carolina. The fellowship will provide Koenig with funding to cover tuition and fees as she works toward her doctorate in organic chemistry. She’s in the second year of a five-year program, the focus of which is gene expression and how it relates to various forms of cancer.

A typical day for Amber includes 10 hours of research, much of which involves synthesizing molecules and studying reactions in the lab. She’s also a teaching assistant responsible for two lab sections each semester, and that experience is valuable, because Amber would like to some day teach at a small college.

For the next few years, however, she’ll be focused on her exciting, important research.

“I think it’s really cool being a grad student and having the freedom to do my own research,” Amber says. “I’m learning things nobody else knows yet. I’m not learning from a textbook; I’m actually creating new knowledge.”