A Bright Star for Women in Science

Mary Alice Epperly

Mary Alice Epperly established a scholarship to help fellow Cyclones

Mary Alice Epperly's fascination with medicine arose from a difficult period in her life. At the age of 13, she was diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease and spent six weeks in the hospital. Inspired by the care she received, Epperly enrolled in a nurse aide program while she was a student at Ames High School, which enabled her to work at the local hospital and experience different areas of medicine.

Choosing to attend Iowa State for her undergraduate education was a no-brainer for the Ames native, but Epperly wasn't exactly sure what avenue of science she wanted to study, so she started in distributive studies. When she took her first bacteriology course — a fairly new science at the time — she fell in love with the field and declared it as her major.

Epperly said she was never the "brightest star in the sky" and spent a big chunk of her time as a college student studying, which paid off. She recalled, "One of my instructors told us that for the mid-term exam, nobody would get 100 percent. Well, I proved him wrong."

Both of Epperly's parents worked for Iowa State while she was a student — her father was a horticulturalist at ISU Seed Corn and her mother did laundry for the students. Although they couldn't help their six children pay for tuition, they did let them live and eat at home for no cost. To afford tuition, Epperly worked every weekend at the hospital.

In 1965, Epperly graduated with the bacteriology program's first graduating class. She then moved to Detroit for her medical technician training, after which she moved to Des Moines to work as a supervisor in Broadlawns Medical Center's microbiology center — a place where she spent the next 50 years. Epperly retired from being a full-time employee in 1999 and stayed on a part-time basis until August 2017.

Today, Epperly wants to provide support for women pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering or math. Through a bequest of retirement assets and cash giving, she established the Mary Alice Epperly Scholarship, which is offered through the Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) program at Iowa State — a program that empowers female students to lend their talent and leadership to the STEM fields.

Epperly said she was inspired to establish the scholarship because, "I remembered how much I paid for college and how hard I had to work to afford $90 a semester. I thought if I could help one more person get through college who might not financially be able to attend otherwise, that's something I could use my money for while bettering the field of science for women."

Through the Mary Alice Epperly Scholarship, Epperly is not only supporting female students through her financial gifts, she is also serving as a role model for women in STEM.

Do you have a passion you want to support at Iowa State? Whether you're interested in furthering STEM studies for women, or you have another pursuit in mind, you can help by establishing or contributing to a scholarship. Contact the office of gift planning at giftplanning@foundation.iastate.edu or 800.621.8515, to see how.