‘A Community that Supports Me Wholeheartedly’

Meet one of UK’s commencement speakers — CLM’s Lauren Sammons

by Ryan Clark
CHS Communications Director

When Lauren Sammons and her family came to visit UK for the first time, they got a bit lost.

Lauren, who hails from northern Illinois, knew nothing of Lexington, but was interested in the University. She came to see it in person, and all at once, she and her family found themselves wandering around, looking for a place to eat lunch in-between tours and meetings.

There didn’t seem to be any food choices in sight. Suddenly, a well-dressed man appeared in front of them, and asked if they needed assistance. They explained their problem and the man said to follow him — he knew the campus well.

Only later, after the man had led them to sustenance, did Lauren and her family learn that their impromptu tour guide was University President Eli Capilouto.

“I mean, how many university presidents would do that?” Lauren says, four years later. “To me and my parents, that set the bar so high. UK was the first campus we visited, and we were just comparing each one after that to what we experienced here. We would say, ‘Yeah, but at UK …. ‘”

She became a Wildcat. And now, Lauren will graduate with a degree in Clinical Leadership and Management, with a double minor in Spanish and Health Advocacy. She thrived, even while coping with Spina Bifida, a birth defect that causes physical mobility challenges and other ailments.

“I tell everyone how accommodating and how special this place is,” she says. “My parents knew that UK would take care of their girl, and it was true — all accommodations were met.”

Along the way she participated in, among other things, the Healthcare Administration Student Association, the CHS Diversity and Inclusion Board, the Christian Student Fellowship, the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity and the Spinal Bifida Association of Kentucky. She even worked a part-time job at the Willy T. Young Library on campus.

And she was recently the recipient of two major campus awards — The Still We Rise Award and the Carol S. Adelstein Outstanding Student Award. To top it off, this week, she was chosen as one of five graduating students to speak at UK’s commencement ceremonies.

As she nears the end of her undergrad career, we caught up with Lauren to ask about life, UK and overcoming adversity.

Here’s 5 questions with Lauren Sammons:

1. What brought you to UK?

Growing up, I had always told my parents I had no intention of staying up north, specifically in Illinois. I looked at schools in the South. I love horses, and I really enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, boating and fishing. I’ve found that many of my passions align more with the opportunities in Kentucky versus back home. 

I was raised with many Southern values, the utmost being to treat people with kindness. In the South, people are much more welcoming; there is an emphasis on hospitality. And of course, I love the warmer weather. 

I was also driven in my search for colleges by scholarships. In high school, I was dedicated to my schoolwork. I took multiple AP classes and honors classes, working hard to earn strong grades and be involved with leadership extracurriculars. I took the ACT four times to get the score I needed to earn the Presidential Scholarship to UK, which I received, covering out-of-state tuition for four years of study. For me, that was a large deciding factor in my decision to become a Wildcat.

Overall, I just really felt at home coming to UK — there was something about the community that made me feel so comfortable and welcomed. You feel that support from people all across the campus and the state, which is rare to find.

2. What led to CLM?

My sophomore year of high school, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in health care, but I didn't know exactly how my passion for this area of study would translate into a college degree. I concluded that I would major in Biology and pursue a career in research, but after orientation week at UK and gathering advice from family and friends, I began to reconsider my planned career path. I didn’t want to be in a lab all day.

I realized I wanted to do something else. I’m a people person. I have such empathy and passion for working with people who have medical difficulties and challenges, and I can relate to patients on a personal level.

The more I thought about it, I grew more interested in the College of Health Sciences and met with Casey Shadix, the director of Student Affairs. He was the first person to suggest CLM, and it aligned with my interests — I wanted to be studying the application of health care to people and providing care personally. It was a perfect fit.

This major also allowed me to double minor. It allowed me to study abroad in Sevilla, Spain. I could pursue my passion for health care, advocacy, and Spanish all within four years.

One of the things that I love most about CLM is that you're not a number — even when you graduate. They really make sure that your whole four years are very wholesome and compacted to where you're really supported by the entire team within the College of Health Sciences.

3. How did UK help you during these four years?

From my initial recruitment to graduation, UK has been outstanding and incredibly supportive of me. My recruiter back in Illinois, Anne Marie Kirk, was my biggest cheerleader in my process through applying and attending UK as a freshman. From there, the Disability Resource Center was accommodating for all my needs and has been consistent in helping me with any support I’ve needed. My advisors and professors in the College of Health Sciences have truly been involved with both my career and personal development. I’ve been blessed to have built such strong relationships with my leaders and mentors, which has heavily contributed to my sense of community and involvement here.

As someone with a physical disability, it took over a year to plan and be able to study abroad — I went to Spain, which had been a dream of mine since beginning my Spanish studies in the sixth grade. The UK International Study Abroad Team helped me secure my plan for medical insurance coverage, classes and mobility needs. In the case something were to happen and I needed a wheelchair, would I be able to get around? Would I be living in a location that would allow me to be mobile and would be accessible?

Finally, with my team supporting me, I was able to study abroad and even earned the UK Diversity Scholarship, which helped me financially on my trip. While abroad, I wrote a blog called “Abled Abroad” which discussed traveling abroad with a disability. I received really positive and encouraging feedback from my blog postings, leading me to think on a larger scale regarding health care and it sparked a passion for health advocacy. Upon returning, I met with my advisor and was able to add on a Health Advocacy minor my final year of undergrad.

Whenever I have needed it, I’ve had a sea of blue supporting me through both educational and personal endeavors while at UK, and I’ll forever be grateful for the endless encouragement I’ve received from my team.

4. What does the future look like for you now? Where does all this lead?

My main objective is to continue working within health care. Currently, I have such a passion for patient experience, and working on patient satisfaction to improve it.

Over my three clinical experiences at UK, I’ve been focused on signature projects working both directly and indirectly with UKHC patient experience. Specifically this spring semester, I've been working hands-on with the Office of Patient Experience under an affinity group within the Center for Quality, Value, and Safety. This allowed me to work directly with patients and seek real-time feedback for areas of improvement.

My last four years have allowed me to expand in my relationships, build my professional network, and complete powerful work within my clinical experiences. I’m very interested in working within the realm of patient experience or patient relations, ideally something that will allow me to have patient contact while also maintaining a leadership role.

However, I am also interested in working with a nonprofit, traveling and working on advocacy work for people with disabilities. I would love for this path to lead me into public speaking, conducting conferences and improving health advocacy internationally.

5. In your senior year, you were the recipient of two very big awards recently. Can you tell us about those?

The first award I applied for was the “Still We Rise” scholarship at UK, which is an award for UK students who have persistently, as they say, “risen up” in the face of adversity while at UK. I know that looks different for everyone, and I was able to share my story.

We all face different levels and forms of adversity in our own lives. I wrote about how it was an accomplishment for me coming to UK as an out-of-state student who had a physical disability and who was able to balance all of the challenges that come with Spina Bifida while also maintaining my health, my education, my relationships — all of the main aspects of life.

I like to think back to my younger self. I would never have dreamed of attending college out-of-state. I would never have thought about what it would be like to leave home and attend UK, let alone on a full-tuition scholarship. As I aged, though, my dreams became bigger, and I grew more driven and determined to work towards my wildest dreams, leading me to UK which has allowed me to surpass the goals I’d set for myself and expand upon my goals even further.

The second award that I recently received was the Carol S. Adelstein Outstanding Student Award, which is for a student with a disability who serves as an inspiration to the UK community through excellence in academics, leadership, and personal qualities. I didn’t even apply for this award, I was nominated by two of my professors, so I was very humbled by this honor and so appreciative to receive this accolade.   

I really am blessed — UK is and forever will be a community that supports me wholeheartedly, and I will always bleed blue.