By Published: Sept. 13, 2021

Kaiulani Pellerin is the first recipient of the John and Ann Harsh Endowed Undergraduate Scholarship

In the last two years, Kaiulani Pellerin has ruptured both of her knees’ anterior cruciate ligaments—or ACLs—and a compassionate physician’s assistant intensified Pellerin’s resolve to launch a career in health care.

A new scholarship, which she recently won, will help her reach that goal, she says.

Pellerin, a first-year student majoring in integrative physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder, is the first recipient of the John and Ann Harsh Endowed Undergraduate Scholarship, which yields a $1,000 scholarship annually for first-generation or underrepresented students majoring in integrative physiology. The endowment will ultimately yield $4,000 in scholarships annually.

Kaiulani Pellerin

Kaiulani Pellerin (above) is the first recipient of the John and Ann Harsh Endowed Undergraduate Scholarship.

The couple has also made a bequest for an endowed chair in integrative physiology.

Pellerin says the support came at a very good time.

“When I was younger, I looked up to my mom,” who has long worked in the medical field, and Pellerin says her dream is to follow suit. Her experience with two torn ACLs deepened that feeling.

Pellerin is a competitive volleyball player who was planning to play at CU Boulder, but, because of the injuries, “that didn’t really work out.”

Now, her focus is academics.

“I’m so glad I got this scholarship, and I’m so grateful,” she said.

After completing her bachelor’s in integrative physiology, Pellerin plans to go to physicians’ assistant school.

“I want to be the person diagnosing, be the person that kids my age could go to for help, because I was in their same position. I would love to do that,” she said.

Pellerin is particularly eager to develop a good “bedside manner,” not just diagnosing and treating people but also “being there for the patient.” Her experience with a physician’s assistant who diagnosed her ACL injury underscored how helpful and comforting it is to have a knowledgeable and compassionate health care provider, someone who could ease anxieties and help explain diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Pellerin’s benefactors also are passionate about health care and education.

John Harsh, a board-certified clinician in sleep medicine, has been a pioneering researcher whose investigations of treatments for narcolepsy with cataplexy contributed to development of a potentially transformative new therapeutic approach now undergoing clinical trials.

Currently he is an adjunct professor of integrative physiology at CU Boulder. Ann Harsh is a lifelong educator who has also partnered in his research for decades.

Todd T. Gleeson, a professor of integrative physiology at CU Boulder and the current faculty director of the Health Professions Residential Academic Program (HPRAP), said the Harshes’ gifts will help integrative physiology students like Pellerin.

“Their scholarship makes it possible for a young physiologist to start their undergraduate studies in the HPRAP with less financial debt and allows them to explore coursework, research and career opportunities earlier in their studies,” Gleeson said.

I’m so glad I got this scholarship, and I’m so grateful."

Pellerin said this is indeed true for her. Winning this scholarship will help her stay in school and graduate, she said.

Pellerin grew up in California and has family on her mother’s side in Hawaii. She came to CU Boulder both for its academic reputation and its active lifestyle. Getting into HPRAP, she said, was “awesome, because it’s setting me up already to be successful.”

“I am so thankful that everyone here so supportive,” she said, adding that “living in a place where everyone else has pretty much the same (academic) goal is really good. I’m not alone in the process.”

She said the scholarship is a “booster seat to be successful, and it pushes me to succeed and thrive.”

In addition to becoming a physician’s assistant, Pellerin also hopes to help bring better medical care to those, like her family, in Hawaii. She notes that Kauai, where her family is, lacks some medical equipment and expertise. Also, the Healthcare Association of Hawaii has reported, Kauai’s residents do not have sufficient access to health care.

In the long term, Pellerin hopes to raise money to address these issues.

“I would really like to help out my community,” she said.