The summer between Heather Ketchum’s junior and senior years of high school, she took a class at Lorain County Community College and fell in love with chemistry.
That one course led Ketchum, 19, to where she is now — at the Raabe College of Pharmacy at Ohio Northern University, double majoring in pharmacy and chemistry.
Ketchum’s ultimate goal is finding a cure for pancreatic cancer, a goal that arose from personal experience. Her great-grandmother and two neighbors who were like grandmothers to her all died of the disease within a short time of each other, sparking her desire to find a cure. A top student at Brookside High School, Ketchum considered a career in medicine, but after taking Dr. Regan Silvestri’s general organic and biochemistry class for allied health students in a summer course at LCCC, she pivoted to pharmacy.
“I found that I love chemistry just as much as I love medicine, and that pharmacy would be the best of both worlds for me,” Ketchum says.
Setting herself apart
Ketchum believes she was accepted to Ohio Northern’s highly competitive six-year pharmacy program largely because of LCCC and Silvestri’s mentoring.
“While most applicants likely had similar grades and test scores, I believe the opportunities LCCC afforded me set me apart and earned me a spot in the program,” she says.
Silvestri says from the start, Ketchum was a stellar, committed student, and he recruited her to be part of his independent research team that helps a local company make whiskey in just days instead of years.
“She was the first high school student to join my group,” Silvestri says.
As part of her research, Ketchum helped determine the best woods to flavor a strong, clear liquor for the Asian market. She wrote her findings in a paper, “GC-MS Analysis of Chinese Baijiu Spirit Flavored as American Whiskey” that was published in the Journal of the Ohio Science Academy.
She was then selected to present her paper at the Ohio Science Academy’s annual conference in April 2017. With hundreds of people attending, the opportunity to present is a prestigious one, Silvestri says. As a high school student, Heather should have presented her work in poster form, as oral presentations are reserved for college students. But because she was enrolled at LCCC through the College Credit Plus program, she qualified as a college student.
Silvestri says that while the students on his research team are just beginning their higher education, they are doing graduate-style work. This collaboration, and the fact that it is being done at a community college, has drawn the attention of the American Chemical Society (ACS), which is promoting LCCC nationally as a model program.
A head start
Ketchum says that both the research she did and the speaking experience that resulted were unique opportunities that help set her apart and gave her a head start on achieving both her academic and career goals.
“LCCC gave me that mental preparedness I needed to succeed in college,” she says.
By the time she arrived at Ohio Northern, she had earned 55 college credits, allowing her to skip some introductory courses — and save considerable expense.
“All of my major electives were done and most of my chemistry classes were done,” she says. “It’s a great start, because my course load isn’t as rigorous as it otherwise might have been.”
Ketchum expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and her doctorate in pharmacy as she continues her quest to find a cure for pancreatic cancer. And she remains grateful to Silvestri and to LCCC for helping her find her career path.
“Honestly, LCCC has provided me with opportunities to succeed,” she says.