Spencer graduate earns coveted CLS award

Thursday, August 2, 2012
Kari Echtenkamp learned about Clinical Laboratory Sciences from her mentor at the University of Omaha undergrad program. Similar to a researcher, the clinical lab sciences will allow her to affect patient needs more immediately.

Kari Echtenkamp opened her email last month and learned that she had won the Martha Winstead scholarship from the Alpha Mu Tau fraternity, an organization supported by the American Society of Clinical Laboratory Sciences. She'd applied for national fraternity scholarship after her professor, Linda Fell, told the class about the opportunity.

"You never think you're going to win," Echtenkamp, a 2008 graduate of Spencer High School, said. "I was so excited."

Many students earn Alpha Mu Tau scholarships each year, but only one Martha Winstead award is given.

"I don't know that we've had anyone from here receive the Martha Winstead award," Fell, associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said.

The award was established in 2002 and named after Winstead, a former president of the American Society of Clinical Lab Science.

The Clinical Laboratory Sciences program at UNMC is a one-year program. Twelve students in this year's class began in May, and will graduate in May of next year. After passing a board exam, they will become certified lab scientists.

"I was hoping to become a researcher," Echtenkamp said, "until I realized that I wanted to help people in a more immediate manner. Research takes a few years before you really start to affect the lives of patients."

Her undergrad mentor's wife was a clinical lab scientist, and Echtenkamp was able to shadow her to learn more about the profession.

"I really like the laboratory," Echtenkamp said.

In addition to studying CLS, Echtenkamp also volunteers in the laboratory of the medical center, one of her favorite parts of UNMC.

"All the departments work together to help patients that are under- or non-insured. We get patient experience," Echtenkamp said. "UNMC is the only student-run clinic in the United States that has CLS students in the laboratory."

After graduation and completing her board's exam, Echtenkamp hopes to stay in the Omaha area and work. She'd also like to go back to school for her master's degree, which would allow her to teach the next generation of clinical lab scientists.

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