Knowledge is uplifting

After saving her family she wants to help save lives

“Four years ago,” Keeley McConnell says, “I had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life.” The mother of three hurriedly packed her children and a few belongings and fled her Gladstone home for a women’s shelter in Skamania County, Washington.

Her decision to leave an abusive relationship and start anew was the first step along an unlikely path that would lead her to Portland State University and a goal of becoming a physician’s assistant.

Becoming a single mom meant rethinking her career. Her job as a medical assistant didn’t pay enough to support her family. She needed more income. But first, she needed education. A high school dropout with a GED, her next move was to enroll at Clark College in Vancouver and start taking biology and remedial math classes.

“I went from adding and subtracting to calculus” in less than two years, McConnell says. Her rapid progress caught the attention of one of her professors, who suggested she look into PSU’s BUILD EXITO. The program provides underrepresented and other marginalized students with mentoring and support in their pursuit of science careers.

She applied, got accepted and is now in her third term, set on finishing her biology degree at PSU before moving onto the physician’s assistant program at Oregon Health & Science University. In the meantime, EXITO has enabled her to get hands-on experience inside OHSU’s trauma research center.

When patients come in, she assesses their injuries and medical histories, and for qualifying patients, involves them in research studies that may help future patients in areas such as clotting, traumatic brain injury and resuscitation.

“I’m literally standing in the place where I want to end up,” McConnell says. “Eventually, I’m going to be on that team that saves these people’s lives and sends them back to their loved ones.”

At Portland State University, we believe knowledge works best when it serves the community.