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K-State Today

September 4, 2013

Giving a laboratory, inspiring others to aim high

Submitted by Marisa Larson

When Karen Nickel completed her doctorate in biochemistry at K-State in 1968, she celebrated — not just for her accomplishment, but because she'd no longer have to spend long days in her basement laboratory in Willard Hall, which she described as dark, dreary and smelly.

"When Phillip Klebba, head of the biochemistry and molecular biophysics department, walked me through the labs in Burt Hall, I looked out the windows across the grassy plaza toward Willard Hall," Nickel said. "I remembered all those years down in the basement of Willard Hall and said to myself, 'This is going to be a wonderful lab for the new, young professors. Why not help K-State out by contributing toward the renovation of this bright, cheerful lab?' So I did! It is a memorial to my years in the basement of Willard Hall."

Nickel's gift to K-State will be used to renovate laboratories in Burt Hall for the department of biochemistry and molecular biophysics. Nickel has also given her expertise to K-State. In 2002, she was selected as the College of Arts and Sciences alumni fellow and is currently serving on the advisory committee for the College of Arts and Sciences. Her career has spanned more than four decades as a clinical chemist, including a stint as the national president of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry and 17 years as the chief of laboratory field services for California. Although she's retired, Nickel still serves California as a consultant in public health.

Nickel broke many gender barriers in the chemistry field, both as a graduate student and professionally. She uses her experience to mentor and encourage young professionals in the industry.

"I always encourage women especially to set high goals," she said. "I think it is now easier for women to achieve and I tell them the sky's the limit!"