Kathleen Paige Bohanon, fourth-year in the College, was guided by a passion for science, an infectious kindness, and an endless curiosity about the people and the world around her. She died on May 8 in Bakersfield, Calif. She was 21.
Bohanon was born in Evanston, Ill., and spent her early years in Germany and Belgium before her family moved to the San Diego area. She was an active and accomplished violinist, swimmer, Girl Scout and student. Her mother Nellie King remembers many science fair projects over the years, including experiments on whether skim or whole milk spoiled faster, the effects of hibernation on her pet gecko and how rats memorized mazes.
“Kathleen had the rare quality of following what made her happy and exploring her passions,” said former roommate and friend Isabella Penido, a fourth-year in the College.
She attended high school at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, Calif., and started college in 2009, drawn to the University of Chicago for the opportunity to do research as an undergraduate. She began as a resident of Halperin House, where she made close friends before moving off campus her second year.
She joined the Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority, where her sisters found her unapologetically brainy. Penido recalls watching her friend translate a paper from German into English solely for the pleasure of reading it. “She was interested in everything,” Penido said.
“Kathleen was one of our best, a student with extraordinary talent and potential as a research scientist,” said Stephen Kron, professor of molecular genetics and cell biology, who runs the Beckman Scholars Program. Bohanon was selected to be a part of the prestigious Beckman Scholars Program in 2013, which provides undergraduates a paid opportunity to study in the laboratory of a mentor for two summers.
Through the program, she researched mammalian DNA modifications in the lab of Chuan He, professor of chemistry, and conducted neuroscience research in the lab of Paul Vezina, professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience. “Kathleen was a very good student. She did some nice work on developing sequencing methods for mammalian DNA modifications in my lab,” He said, adding that she was a friendly and welcome presence among the people in the lab.
During a period in which she considered a career in medicine, Bohanon trained as a paramedic EMT and worked in Peru with an organization providing women with prenatal health care. “Kathleen was one of the most genuinely caring people I have ever met,” said Courtney Feller, AB’14, friend and fellow volunteer on the medical service trip to Peru.
She soon returned to her passion for research, and settled on pursuing a degree in chemistry, biological chemistry and biological sciences. With her sharp intellect and genuine interest in other people’s success, she often found herself helping other students with difficult concepts.
Kathleen is survived by her parents, Nellie King and Tom Bohanon. In honor of her interest in the science of the brain and mental illness, her family has asked that donations be directed to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.