Chasing Dreams

KSU Student finds inspiration to pursue her passion

KENNESAW, Ga. (Dec 12, 2019) — Growing up as the daughter of a single mother who is also deaf meant Rachel Larsen had to straddle two worlds. At an early age, she became fluent in sign language to help her mom better navigate the hearing world, and it was this experience along with an unplanned transfer to Kennesaw State that led her on an unexpected path.

Rachel Larsen
Rachel Larsen
Originally a criminal justice major with plans to attend law school, Larsen transferred to Kennesaw State during her second semester of her freshman year following the tragic death of her brother. After taking several sociology classes, she began to reevaluate her career choice and was convinced she found her true calling when she took the Society, Community and Health class that introduced her to the field of medical sociology.

“That class and the professor, Dr. Evelina Sterling, changed everything for me,” said Larsen who ended up switching her major to sociology with a minor in medical sociology so that she could focus on helping people like her mom.

“It was Dr. Sterling who showed me how impactful research can be and encouraged me to find a topic that mattered to me,” said Larsen.

Finding a topic that she connected with was easy.

“I remembered all the times when I went with my mom to the doctor and had to help her communicate with them because there wasn’t anyone in the office who knew sign language,” she said. Based on her mom’s experience, Larsen set out to learn more about the challenges members of the Deaf community faced in getting medical care. 

Despite her own comfort with the Deaf community, she said that it was difficult to get people to open up and trust her especially because with such personal information. Eventually she prevailed and found that others in the Deaf community shared the same challenges that her mother faced when dealing with doctors. Through her research, Larsen also found that most medical offices were not equipped to handle the communication needs of their deaf patients, such as having someone on staff who knows sign language.

“It probably isn’t something many people think of right away but if you can’t communicate with your doctor, that’s a really big deal,” said Larsen. “That’s why I’m so interested in the field of medical sociology because it focuses on the human side of medicine and how we can improve our healthcare system to better serve everyone in society.”

As she prepares to graduate from KSU, Larsen, who is the first in her family to earn a degree, says that she is looking forward to continuing her research next year in graduate school and plans to expand to other issues.

“When I first came to KSU, it felt like I was starting all over because I had a plan and when that changed, I felt a little lost. But through my experience here, I found something that I didn’t even know I wanted, and I am so grateful to my professors who helped me find my purpose.”

—Andrea Judy

Photography by Jason Getz

Related Stories


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit