"When Coach Jeff Pedersen texted me in biochem lab saying congratulations, I thought, 'I won an award?'" recalls Kevin Pflaum '13. "I'm not a great athlete."
Pflaum loves track and field — he pole-vaulted in high school and, despite his humility, ranks in the Pioneers' all-time top 10 in the hammer and weight throws. But Pedersen had just congratulated Pflaum for being the fourth Grinnellian in five years to win the Midwest Conference's Roy W. LeClere Award for academic excellence. The award honors the male student-athlete who earns the highest junior-year GPA while lettering in at least two league sports.
Surprisingly, Pflaum found Grinnell while searching for engineering schools, he says. "I was applying to large engineering schools when a family friend told me about 3-2 programs like Cal Tech's [one of Grinnell's partners].
"I didn't know what 'liberal arts' was when I applied. I was accepted into all the engineering schools, but I had a good feeling about Grinnell. At New Student Orientation, I knew I'd come to the right place."
Pflaum's plans changed after taking biology courses like an advanced placement course in high school and Biological Inquiry, Grinnell's unusual introductory course where entry-level students learn biological principles by doing original research. He'd found his passion. "Biology classes are my favorites, far and away. Especially animal and plant physiology and microbiology," he says.
Missing his own dogs, he began to volunteer at the local Poweshiek Animal League Shelter (PALS). He and Andie Quinn '15 later started Pals of PALS to help other student volunteers.
Now, Pflaum says, "I really want to be a veterinarian. I don't know if I've wanted anything more." As a senior, he has already begun receiving interview requests from veterinary schools.
With his adviser, biology professor Leslie Gregg-Jolly — "She's wonderful," he interjects — he crafted his individual curriculum to prepare for veterinary school. He admits he initially dreaded taking literary analysis. "I didn't like English in high school, and don't really like writing. So I was surprised that I loved it. I also really enjoyed Major Western Religion, and took Traditions of Islam because of it."
So how does he balance athletics and demanding coursework? "I've already made a commitment to my health to practice and work out six days a week, so it's not much more. I get a later start on homework than many people, but I accept that that's how it's going to be, and I work around it. Academics is my major focus, but I'm also committed to my sport," he says.