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SEMsational Alums


Linda Cornelius '71

Casey Perley '04

What's a SEM girl? Smart, self-confident, daring, articulate, able to laugh at herself. There is no one more fitting to begin the SEMsational Stories series than Casey Perley. She graduated from SEM in 2004, at the top of her class, with 12 AP credits, all with scores of 4's or 5's; Yale University undergraduate degree in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Duke University PhD in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. That would seem like an end-point for most mortals. It's not for Casey.

So what is she in the process of becoming? She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), doing translational science and biodefense work while she plays with two (not one, but two) symphony orchestras: The Frederick Symphony Orchestra and the Symphony of the Potomac. She's also involved with music programs for kids in the area, because as she said, "kids count."

Starting in her freshman year at SEM, Casey took every science and math course available and conquered them all, including two college level calculus classes because her teacher, Linda Goodman, came in at 7 AM three days a week to teach a class of two for her and Emi Ovitt Kim '04. "I always loved science," she said, "I was the one who brought my Fisher-Price microscope to 5-year-olds' tea parties."

Casey was a Jacket but describes herself as "hopeless" at sports (belied by her running habit now as an adult!). So what did she do at SEM to participate in sports? She got resourceful. She managed both the badminton and soccer teams, which benefited because mental math abilities enabled her to diagnose vulnerabilities in the opposition.

She says of her time at SEM: "I loved history, I loved science, I loved music, I loved math and at SEM, I could do it all, and I did!" She credits SEM for teaching her that she could achieve everything — Mrs. Goodman, Mr. Schooley, the arts staff who produced the scores she wrote for two school plays (Heart of Darkness and A Midsummer Night's Dream) — all of whom asked her, what can we do to challenge you? "SEM allowed me to be intellectually curious and I didn't have to leave anything important on the table."

Casey in the laboratory at the USAMRIID

Casey is grateful to her parents Michael Perley and Tama Crowell, for encouraging her love of learning and music and for allowing her to come to SEM. "Parents who can, should encourage their daughters to come to SEM – for the flexible curriculum, the number of PhD teachers, for the love of learning, the nurturing of curiosity, and for the diversity in the student body, particularly provided by the residential program."

She hopes to have kids someday, and she dreams of sending her future daughter to board at SEM, where she can spend weekends with her grandparents! "SEM did more than provide me with excellent preparation for college and for life. It taught me that girls can do anything, and instilled in me a love of subjects outside of my chosen field. If I have a daughter, I can't imagine a better way to pass those lessons and a slightly overzealous love for everything yellow jacket on to her, than by sending her to SEM!"