Auburn graduate, first-generation student says ‘thank you’ through
scholarship for other students
By Sheryl Caldwell / Auburn University
More than miles span the distance between Glencoe, Alabama, and Washington D.C., for Dr. Kacie Saulters, a 2007 biomedical sciences graduate.
The nearly 700-mile stretch between her childhood home and the place she calls home today is paved with hard work, a medical degree, a thriving career as an associate professor of clinical medicine at Georgetown School of Medicine, a happy marriage, two children and too many fond memories to count. One of those blessings, she said, includes her years at Auburn University.
THE ROAD TO AUBURN
As a first-generation college student, Saulters’ path to Auburn was not easy. She grew up on the border of Glencoe and Gadsden, Alabama, where her family has lived for generations. Her father worked as a heavy machinery mechanic, and her mother was a part-time church secretary who also dabbled a bit in teaching preschool.
She graduated near the top of her small class at Glencoe High School. Her best friend was the valedictorian. And even though there was no precedent for her college ambition, Saulters knew that was the course for her life. But it wasn’t until she received a full-tuition merit scholarship — and later a need-based scholarship — that her Auburn dreams became a reality.
“My parents were very encouraging of my desire to go to college, but we definitely did not have unlimited financial resources, by any means,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it when I got the letter about the scholarship. And in hindsight, had it not been for that, who knows?”
Saulters recently established the Dr. Kacie Jackson Saulters Ever Auburn Endowed Scholarship in the College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM). She created a need-based scholarship to “pay it forward,” hoping other students like her — with the drive but not the financial resources to attend — can benefit from the same life-changing educational experience she had.
“This scholarship is a way for me to say, ‘thank you’ to Auburn for what it has given me,” she said. “I think Auburn has the ability to give anyone the tools they need to succeed, and I’m hoping this scholarship will do that for students like me.”
THE UNIQUE AUBURN EXPERIENCE
From the beginning, Saulters found a home away from home at Auburn. A self-described introvert, she pushed herself to get involved and discover her own Auburn experience.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is such a giant place, and I feel like such a tiny part of it,’ but everyone was so kind and welcoming,” she said. “Being a first-generation student can be intimidating, and you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into, but at the same time, you don’t know what can’t be done either, so that helps you grow.”
She quickly found her home in COSAM, serving as a student ambassador with COSAM Leaders, a supplemental biology instructor for non-majors and a peer advisor for pre-health students. She also established a chapter of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) at Auburn. But it was the relationships she formed with professors and mentors, including the late COSAM Dean and Professor Marie Wooten; Larry Wit, emeritus professor of biology and former associate dean for academic affairs; and Robert Lishak, retired associate professor of biology, that have had the greatest impact on her.
“One of my first biology classes at Auburn was with Dr. Lishak, who I know was thought of as the tough professor. Being in his class was a pivotal moment for me,” she said. “I felt captivated by the material in a way I never had before, and I wound up being a supplemental instructor for the lab and that’s when I first discovered my love of teaching. I see him as one of the biggest mentors and people I still look up to.”
LIFE BEYOND AUBURN
With the support of her COSAM mentors, Saulters explored a variety of career options, from physical therapy to microbiology research. She shadowed medical professionals and completed an internship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a focus on public health. She later pursued medical school, but still has a passion for public health issues, health disparities and teaching. These experiences created the foundation for her career today.
“Looking back through the lens of my faith, I can see how each experience has shaped where I am now. And I absolutely would not change a thing,” she said. “Some people are born knowing they want to be a doctor. That wasn’t me. But I’m so thankful because I kicked the tires, so to speak, on a lot of things. And I was able to be confident in what fit me and what didn’t.”
Saulters embraces the power of education to change a life. It changed hers. She hopes her scholarship will do the same for others who, like her, just need an open door.
“We all come from different backgrounds, and living in D.C., I’ve learned a lot about disparity,” she said. “Being able to grow intellectually, but also in the way you think about the world and the way you think about yourself and others in the community, is so important. For me, college was the time that began. So, anything we can do to promote education is just one more way we can better our nation, our world and the future.”
Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.