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Choose KU, Choose the World

Cathryn Pugh

By Colin Jensen '17

Cathryn Pugh stands behind a sign marking the final destination on her through hike, Katahdin Mountain in Vermont.Despite having Type 1 diabetes, Kutztown University alumna Cathryn Pugh '16 has held close to her love for the outdoors since her graduation in 2016. Recently, Pugh completed a journey thousands of people attempt a year and only one in four finish.

Type 1 diabetes (T1D), means that your body can't successfully utilize glucose, requiring a constant monitoring of blood sugar levels, but Pugh refused to let her condition get in the way of enjoying what she loves. In fact, she became one of the 17,500 people who has "thru-hiked" the entire Appalachian Trail. With 2,235 miles ahead of her, Pugh, accompanied by her parents, started her journey at the beginning of the trail in Georgia.

The Appalachian Trail starts near Springer Mountain in northern Georgia and extends to Mount Katahdin in the middle of Maine. On average, it takes a hiker anywhere from five to seven months to complete the trail.

For most with T1D, eating sugar-rich food is only for occasions such as low blood sugar. Pugh had the luxury of eating candy and other treats for fun, considering she was hiking an average of 10 miles a day.

She started her journey in February and reached Maine nearly seven months later in September.

Pugh's interest in hiking was inspired by a family friend as well as stories told by former thru-hiker, Dr. Christopher Habeck. She attributes her flowering love for nature to her time spent at Kutztown. Specifically, she emphasizes the impact each of her professors has had on her.

"The relationships I have built with them helped me gain experiences and knowledge that no textbook could have taught me," she says in regard to the professors she became close with.

Starting her college career as a biology major in the micro, molecular and cell track, she was under the assumption she would find little interest in botany. Ironically, after taking her introductory courses, she acquired a new love for plants, changed her track to organismal/ecology and eventually became the president of the Botany Club. She became known to her fellow Botany Club members and those who frequented the KU greenhouse as the "plant girl." Cathryn with all of her hiking gear equipped.

In the summer of 2014, Pugh was a project manager for a tree inventory project in Pottsville, Pa., under Dr. Christopher Sacchi. The following year, in conjunction with Dr. Gregory Setliff, she ran a ground-breaking project to monitor the life-cycle of the invasive spotted lanternfly which had recently been detected in Berks County, a first in the United States.

After two years of research, Pugh presented her findings at several Entomological Society meetings, starting in Harrisburg and traveling to Minnesota and Florida where she won first place in the undergraduate poster competition.

Her other experience includes working at Red Earth Farm in Kempton, Pa., at the suggestion of Dr. Todd Underwood.  

Pugh has since sold her car in an effort to be more environmentally friendly and save money. Currently, she is planning a trip to travel across the country to search for graduate schools where she wants to study botany.

She emphasizes once more the importance of her studies at Kutztown, the relationships she formed with the botany club and the invaluable experiences she gained from working and growing with the KU faculty.  

"Kutztown was more than a degree, it has shaped me into the person I am today."

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