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10 Questions with Valley Cover Girl Kate Thompson

For many students, their time at Penn State takes them well beyond our quaint little Happy Valley. In this semester’s issue of Valley Magazine, Penn State’s fashion and lifestyle magazine, we meet a student whose passion took her all the way to Africa.

Kate Thompson, a senior from Doylestown, Pa., is a dedicated and passionate student and humanitarian. While in Africa, she volunteered with the Amani Orphanage in Tanzania where she helped care for and mentor roughly 30 orphans and helped establish a website for the orphanage to help raise funds. Thompson, who is a Schreyer Honors Scholar pursuing degrees in anthropology and community, environment, and development, focuses her research on lemurs’ changing diets as compared to their fossilized ancestors and the influence of human’s on this change.

Aside from academics, Thompson is an accomplished cross country runner with Penn State’s women’s club cross country team and has even qualified for the Boston Marathon. We sat down with Thompson for 10 questions on her experiences as a Valley’s cover girl, her passion for anthropology, and more.

Onward State: How does it feel to be the Valley cover girl?

Kate Thompson: It’s weird! It’s super weird, and a little bit overwhelming but in a good way. I mean, people have asked me to sign it and so I’m like “cool, sure!” I definitely like sharing my story. It’s a little bit like being in a funhouse, because I see my face everywhere!

OS: Is it awkward seeing your face everywhere on campus?

KT: Oh absolutely. Especially when I see people reading [Valley] and I go, “hey, that’s me!” It’s a good feeling. It’s just definitely not something that I’ve ever experienced before.

OS: What was it like being in front of the camera?

KT: It was so fun! I have a little bit of experience just helping my friends who are into photography, and I love art, so we would model for each other to practice lighting, and get more familiar with really nice cameras. It was so much fun. As for the clothes, the stylist, Molly, helped me pick out the clothes and we tried to make it go along with what I would wear on the field. It was a very artistic take! All the girls at Valley are really great to work with.

OS: What were you doing when you found out you were the Valley cover girl?

KT: I had multiple interviews before being selected and I went into them really just being myself and answered all their questions with honesty. I had no expectation to win, I just wanted to have the opportunity to share my story and what I’m doing. I was very surprised when they contacted me! They sent me an email, and I was either working on homework or doing research, and it was an email that made my entire day.

OS: What’s one of your favorite Penn State memories?

KT: One that really stands out to me is going on runs with the cross country girls. Especially with my one friend Liz during freshman year we went on a run and got Rita’s Blendinis after, so little moments like that that build up across the years are great since I’ve run every year. Any great memories I’ve had are people-centered since there are a lot of wonderful people here.

OS: What are you planning to do after you graduate in May?

KT: The next step for me is a Ph.D program so I’m applying. It’s exciting, but stressful! I have incredible professors. My thesis advisor, Dr. George Perry, is awesome and I couldn’t ask for anyone better. He’s really been challenging me to shoot for great schools, so hopefully I’ll get in to one of those. I’d like to continue research, or maybe one day go into academia and become a professor, or go into conservation work. To be able to work as a professor and go to Africa to work on research would be the top choice. It would be my dream!

OS: What made you want to get into anthropology?

KT: I took a class, Biological Anthropology (ANTH 21), and I fell in love with it. I originally was an English major and I was actually trying to transfer into DUS, but my advisor told me: “No, no, no. People transfer out of DUS! You’re doing it wrong!” So I started talking to professors [about anthropology] and reading National Geographic Explorers and seeing all the amazing work they do, and just started committing myself to it.

OS: What’s one of your favorite memories of working with the children in Africa?

KT: I definitely enjoyed working at the orphanage in Tanzania. I was really close to the kids in my village, and there’s this one little boy who was my friend’s son and another one of my friend’s cousin—since it’s such a small town a lot of people are related—and he’s four years old. His name is Mahandry, and he’s this cute little pudgy four-year-old from Madagascar. One of my favorite memories is when he was counting in English, because one of the older boys was teaching him. He would count “one, two, three, four!” and then turn and say to me, “What does four mean?” because he didn’t realize what he was saying were numbers. He only knew it as a sequence, and not know it was actually a sequence of numbers. It was actually really cute! I miss that kid a lot.

OS: What does your family think about you going abroad to Africa?

KT: It stresses them out! (laughs) Like, a lot. My mom and my dad are extremely supportive. My family stands behind me with everything I do and really encourages me; however I know that they are very afraid. Especially my mom. She gets so scared when I’m abroad, and has a million security questions…of course, but they’re super supportive and I wouldn’t be anywhere without them. I’d love to take my mom sometime! I could say “you know, it’s not that bad!” Of course, that time we’ll see a lion and she’ll never come back.

OS: If you could be any dinosaur, which would you be and why?

KT: Brontosaurus! It was my favorite growing up, because it’s oxymoronic. It’s an oxymoron because I’m really short, and brontosauruses used to be really tall…but now scientists found out that the neck actually doesn’t go up, it goes out, so the brontosaurus actually isn’t tall. It’s so anticlimactic! But oh well.

To help the Amani Orphanage Kate works with in Tanzania, visit

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About the Author

Sarah Peterson

Sarah Peterson is a junior from Bethlehem, PA majoring in print journalism and minoring in reruns of Breaking Bad and traveling everywhere she possibly can.

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