Reed Magazine February 2003
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senior sagas Seven tales from the class of 2003,
starring passions and interests
from Kyrgyz bride capture to fighting forest fires
  By Romel Hernandez

The seven members of the class of 2003 that you’ll meet on these pages, along with 300 or so of their classmates, share a common bond with the generations of alumni who preceded them. They benefited from life at Reed, which helps intelligent and creative men and women learn from each other, take risks of the mind and heart, and take control of their learning and their lives.

Nancy Van ProoyenNancy Van Prooyen

To list Nancy Van Prooyen’s accomplishments brings to mind a critical question: When does she sleep? Consider the personal obstacles she has overcome.

When she was six years old, Van Prooyen was badly burned. She spent the next two years in and out of hospitals recovering from her injuries. She was labeled a “special education” student due to a speech impediment that caused her to speak too fast. She grew up in a rough neighborhood in North Little Rock, Arkansas, with a crack house down the street.

She always felt safe, thanks to the love and support of her family. When children teased her at school for her scarred look, she passed
out flowers and stickers. “It really caught people off guard,” she laughs now.

She eventually climbed to the top of her high school class. She also helped launch Learning from Each Other, a volunteer program that recruited high school students to tutor youngsters at the public library.

When the time came to attend college, her parents made it clear that she would need to pay her way. So she mailed out a flurry of applications and received a number of scholarships, large and small, to cover her schooling.

She chose a little college on the other side of the country with a reputation for academic excellence.

“I wanted to go to a place where people wanted to learn just for the sake of learning,” she says. “At Reed you’re surrounded by so many interesting, unique people who are really passionate about so many things.”

While at Reed, she launched a volunteer group called Kids for Kids, through which college students visit patients at Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital. Together they make dreamcatchers and other crafts.

Van Prooyen majors in biochemistry and molecular biology. She travels by bus almost every day to Oregon Health and Science University to work on her thesis project, mapping a protein implicated in breast cancer.

She has spent summers doing biochemistry research at Harvard, the Mayo Clinic, and Dortmund University.

In what she considers her spare time, she paints and writes poetry:

“When I am sad
I buff my ballet shoes,
walk the scenic route,
eat German chocolates
toss down shots of bitter caffeine,
pick wild flowers,
and place them in a Paris mug.”

This summer she will study painting and poetry in Italy.

Even juggling academics and her other activities, she claims to get a solid six to eight hours of sleep a night. The effervescent 22-year-old says the only way she fits everything in is by being “hyper-organized.”

So what drives her? A terrible fire may have scarred her skin, but a fire inside her burns more fiercely.

“Growing up, a lot of people knew me as the burned girl,” she says. “I wanted to be known for something else. . . . I never felt sorry for myself. And I never wanted people to feel sorry for me, either.”

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Reed Magazine February