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Class of 2014: Lives of Meaning and Purpose

Top scholars say attending PC best decisions they ever made

It almost didn’t happen. Two students who will finish their Providence College careers with a 4.0 grade point average — never earning a

grade below an A — almost never came to PC.

One had her heart set on art school. The other was focused on colleges elsewhere. Call it fate or destiny or providence. Today, class valedictorians Ekaterina (Katerina) Protsenko ’14 (Newington, Conn.) and Laura J. Wells ’14 (Poughquag, N.Y.) call coming to PC one of the best decisions they ever made.

As the top scholars in the Class of 2014, Protsenko and Wells will address their fellow graduates during Commencement Weekend at the Academic Awards Ceremony on Saturday, May 17, at 11 a.m. in the Peterson Recreation Center.

Protsenko: The socially conscious scientist

Katerina Protsenko wanted to spend her life painting in the park. That was her definition of happiness. But, as high school went along, the Latvian-born Protsenko’s interests began to broaden. Her love of science and psychology grew, and her road to Providence was paved.

“After I visited a few schools, I realized that I wanted a small, liberal arts school,” explained Protsenko, a biology and psychology double major, who also is graduating with a certificate in neuroscience.

When she first experienced the liberal arts that she desired, in the form of the College’s Development of Western Civilization (DWC) Program, she said she was “terrified” — by the reading and writing and being asked to defend positions. But, the light quickly went on. 

“Here, when you’re expected to write, think, and share, you realize that you have something to say and so does everybody else. It makes you fearless,” she said. 

That attitude carried over into her majors, where she excelled in class and in the research lab. Like so many PC science students, Protsenko has spent valuable lab time being mentored by faculty members. She has worked alongside Dr. Christopher M. Bloom, associate professor of psychology, Dr. Joseph A. DeGiorgis, associate professor of biology, and Dr. Mary E. Harmon-Vukic, assistant professor of psychology, on issues such as cognition and the relationship of the amyloid precursor protein to Alzheimer’s disease.

“As soon as I came here, I had teachers who treated me like an adult,” she said. “Dr. Harmon-Vukic asked me to work in her lab during my freshman year. She trusted me with her work and research. If this was a bigger school, that type of interaction would not have happened.”

In addition to her on-campus research, Protsenko served as a research assistant at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas for two summers and as a clinical research intern in Rhode Island Hospital’s Department of Neuropsychology. 

Following graduation, she is taking a job as a research assistant at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston — the largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School — concentrating on pain disorder management.

Her eventual goal is to enter a doctoral program in clinical psychology — a decision informed by her studies and, more importantly, the service she has undertaken at PC.

A veteran of three Habitat for Humanity trips, a volunteer for My Brother’s Keeper, the College’s Friar Food Rescue, and the S.T.O.P. Hunger student organization, and a tutor in the Office of Academic Services, Protsenko wants her future to be focused on human service work.

“When we would deliver food to people in need, you realize that people don’t care about your GPA. They just need help,” she said. “You realize that some things aren’t as important as others.”

She added, “For me, the best moments at PC have made me appreciate humanity and the things that I have.”

More about Katerina Protsenko

  • Fluent in Russian
  • Member of the Liberal Arts Honors Program
  • Favorite Course: Honors Studies in Ethics
  • Favorite Book: A Farewell to Arms
  • Member of national biology, premedical, and psychology honor societies
  • Recipient of the Rev. Paul van K. Thomson Award, which is given to the most outstanding student to complete the four-semester Honors DWC curriculum
  • Recipient of the CRC Press Award for outstanding achievement by a student in freshman chemistry

Laura Wells: Pursuing a balanced education

Variety is important to Laura Wells. Maybe that comes from her early years when her family lived in places like Wisconsin, Texas, Arizona, New York, or Belgium. Or, perhaps an appreciation for diverse subjects was instilled in her by her parents, both of whom valued education enough to earn doctoral degrees.

In any case, if Wells was looking for variety, she found it at PC — but not necessarily by design. When it came time to look at colleges, Wells was making visits to Boston-area schools. One day, along with her family, she decided to visit PC.

“I listened to Father Shanley [College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. '80] talk about the value of the Liberal Arts Honors Program [LAHP] and from that moment, I couldn’t see myself at another school. It was providential,” she said.

Naturally curious, Wells dove headfirst into her academics — especially DWC. “I have always loved reading. That made Civ attractive,” she said. “It sparked a curiosity to take more humanities classes.”

Declaring as a math and humanities major allowed Wells to explore her diverse interests, such as literature, philosophy, and calculus.

“I always enjoyed math. There’s a beauty and clarity in mathematics that mirrors the harmony and order in the world. The systematic way of thinking appeals to me,” said Wells.

Outside the classroom, her list of academic accomplishments is long: math tutor, violinist in the College’s Orchestra, co-president of PC’s Solzhenitsyn Society, member of the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl team that won the 2013 Northeast Regional Ethics Bowl Championship in its first year, and recipient of a National Science Foundation-funded research internship at Boise State University.

While academic rigor satisfied intellectual needs, spiritual growth was essential to her PC experience, she said. She found it as a student coordinator for PC for Life and FaithWorks, as president of the College’s branch of the Anscombe Society, and as a member of the Liturgical Choir

In 2012, Wells received a Rev. Philip A. Smith, O.P. Student Fellowship for Study and Service Abroad, which allowed her to spend six weeks in Oxford, England, at Blackfriars Hall and at the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, and she has been deeply involved with Campus Ministry — a place where she formed her closest friendships and where she has been “challenged to become who I’m meant to be.”

This fall, Wells will enroll in a Ph.D. in mathematics program at the University of Notre Dame, with a goal of becoming a college professor.

“I have been so blessed to have formed connections with faculty. They have been more than just teachers. They have been mentors,” she said. “When people talk about long-term goals, they say, ‘I want to be like this person’ or ‘I want to follow in their footsteps.’ My professors are the ones whose footsteps I want to follow. They have been my inspiration.”

More about Laura Wells

  • National mathematics honors society member
  • Member of the Liberal Arts Honors Program
  • Intercollegiate Studies Institute 2011 Honors Fellow
  • Traveled to Italy for the PC choirs’ performance tour
  • 2011 Delasanta Award recipient for writing the single best essay in his or her first year of Honors DWC
  • Favorite Course[s]: Honors Philosophy and Literature and Flannery O’Connor colloquium
  • Favorite Book: The Brothers Karamazov


— Chris Machado

Read more about Commencement 2014.
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Valedictorians Katerina Protsenko '14, Laura Wells '14 say coming to PC was the best decision they ever made.

PC’s 96th Commencement
Dr. Temple Grandin, an animal scientist and autism activist, will present the Commencement Address on May 18.

Top Scholars' Class Oration
Top students Katerina Protsenko '14, Laura Wells '14 collaborated on a valedictory speech.

Drogula Presents Faculty Remarks
Dr. Fred K. Drogula accepts teaching honor at Academic Awards Ceremony.

Commencement Mass Homily
Father Shanley tells graduates: "The way lies open before you."

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