Although she hasn’t hoisted a rifle or survived a boot camp herself, first-year physician assistant student Shannon Korth understands the sacrifice made by those in the military every day.
“My husband is in the Air Force, my maternal grandfather flew a supply plane in the Vietnam War and was exposed to Agent Orange, and my paternal grandfather was a gunner’s mate in the Navy,” she explained. “My great-uncle was in the Army and stepped on a landmine the day before he was supposed to return home. He succumbed to his injuries and paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country. His name is currently on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.”
In a special ceremony on the day before Veterans Day, Korth received the first annual Charles B. Keeling Selfless Service Award, a $500 cash award created by 2014 PA graduate Barrett Waldrep in honor of his grandfather, a Marine Corps veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
“He was the epitome of hard work,” said Waldrep of his grandfather. For Waldrep, who served as a combat medic in the U.S. Army, the Keeling award is a way “to give back.” In his first year in the PA program, Waldrep himself received the Primary Care Service Scholarship—a renewable $22,000 scholarship funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “I want my life’s work to be a tribute to God and those who have influenced me in my spiritual, academic and medical ventures,” he said at the time.
To qualify for the Keeling Award, first-year PA students who have served in the military, law enforcement, as a firefighter or a first responder, must submit a paper to the Keeling Award Foundation. The foundation, made up of Waldrep and a few family and friends, determines the award winner based on the applicant’s discussion about their lives, what service means to them, and how they plan to serve now and as a physician assistant.
Korth, a Nebraskan who has worked as an open heart surgical technologist for several years, is no stranger to serving people. “It is gratifying to save someone’s life or give someone the care they need to improve their quality of life,” she explained. “I never expected a thank you or to be recognized. I just want to help people.“
As a PA, Korth hopes to continue to serve those, who like her husband and grandfathers, have risked everything to serve their country. “I want to give back to these veterans by spending a day a month, devoting my time to them at the base, providing physical exams, immunizations, etc.,” she said. “But I want to be a more valuable member of the community by demonstrating to my children how to help others in need and allowing them to be part of the process.”
More importantly, Korth understands the legacy of service the award means. “I spoke with Barrett after the presentation,” she said. “He spoke with his grandmother, Charles’ wife, about the award. Tears were shed because of the happiness that his legacy will be forever remembered here at Union College. I am deeply honored and accept this award in memory of Charles Keeling. This man touched so many lives. I never met him, but wish I could have.”
To learn more about Union’s Master of Physician Assistant Studies program, visit www.ucollege.edu/pa
By Stefani Leeper, student writer