Kate Criner doesn't know exactly what the future holds career-wise, but she sees herself helping people, whatever path she takes.
"I don't know what city I'll be in, maybe Paducah, maybe somewhere halfway across the world, but I want to be plugged in and helping people in whatever community I may be in," she said.
The 18-year-old Paducah Tilghman High School senior wanted to be a ballerina-actor-psychologist at age 7 and stayed with psychology until switching gears to neuroscience, due to a love for chemistry and biology.
The brain fascinates her.
"I think that going into neuroscience, you can see just how a small difference in how your brain reacts versus someone else's can drastically change the outcomes of your life," she said. "And it's what makes us all different, but also all the same."
Mental health is another topic of importance to Criner, who wrote a Kentucky Youth Empowerment Systems grant last year to create a youth mental health initiative -- Loqui, or Latin for "to speak." It seeks to offer an environment to "share struggles" and build a support network, Criner said.
"It's basically mental health for teenagers, led by teenagers," she said. "We are aiming to remove the power dynamic that's found in traditional therapy that really makes teens not want to go. So, this way, it's just starting a conversation. It's less scary. … It's just been a wonderful way to get people talking and breaking the barriers and just taking on the stigma of mental health."
Criner, daughter of Janie and Andy Criner of Paducah, is the Paducah Bank Teen of the Week.
Each Monday and Tuesday, The Sun publishes profile stories about area high school seniors chosen from a pool of nominees for Teen of the Week recognition. Around the end of school, a selection committee picks one senior for Teen of the Year, who receives a $5,000 scholarship. An additional student is recognized with an Inspiration Award, which carries a $1,000 scholarship.
Criner is a well-rounded student whose academic achievement is among the top of her class at Tilghman. She's ranked third with a weighted GPA above 4.3. She is an AP Scholar with Distinction and earned an ACT score of 34.
She also participated in the Governor's Scholar program for creative writing at Bellarmine University this past summer. She keeps busy with many extracurricular activities, such as mock trial, Future Problem Solving, varsity tennis, National Honor Society, Beta Club and playing clarinet for the wind ensemble and pep band. She's captain of the speech team too, or what she describes as "competitive talking."
Along with her love for STEM subjects, Criner considers herself a creative person who enjoys reading, writing and participating in different essay contests. She draws inspiration from Savannah Brown's poetry and cites Alice Hoffman as her favorite author.
"She's wonderful," she said. "The way she writes is just so descriptive and beautiful and honestly, it's just magical the way she says things. That inspires me a lot in my own writing."
Criner's exact path in college and beyond has not been decided yet, but she spent time during fall break touring different universities. She's considering several schools, including Belmont University, University of Louisville and Indiana University, while also applying to "reach" schools like Northwestern and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Senior year and graduation is first though, but Criner looks forward to seeing where everyone ends up after high school, noting that many of her friends have different dreams and aspirations.
They're all part of the "Tilghman family," in her eyes.
"I am definitely sad about everything kind of coming to a close, but I am so excited to go and be able to do something else in a new community and maybe bring it back to my old community, eventually," she said.By
KELLY FARRELL firstname.lastname@example.org