Wearing red, white and blue and singing patriotic songs at an eastern Montana nursing home, the youngster from Lindsay noticed an elderly man struggling to eat his soup. She stopped mid-song, abandoned the family band known as "Troupe Kniepkamp" and fed him. When she finally resumed singing, she not only gripped a microphone, but a vision.
"I told my mom that day I was going to be a doctor," said Kniepkamp, a 2002 graduate of Circle High School. "It's never changed. It has always stayed the same."
Now in her third year at Montana State University, Kniepkamp intends to attend medical school after graduating from MSU with two degrees. One degree will be in cell biology and neuroscience with a biomedical emphasis. The other will be in biochemistry.
She has already worked as an administrative assistant at the McCone County Nursing Home, observed health care professionals in action, and helped with lambing. She currently works in the emergency room at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital as a unit clerk and patient care aide. She researches the brain and assists physiology professor Chuck Paden at MSU's Animal Resources Center.
"Tiffany is a truly exceptional young woman who has excelled in academics, scientific research and community service," Paden said in recommending that Tiffany be named a Bozeman Rotary Club Student of the Month.
Kniepkamp and Charlie Doughty of Great Falls shared the Rotary award for April. In addition to that, Kniepkamp became a 2005-06 Beckman Scholar. The $17,600 award pays her to do research full time this summer and next and part time during the 2005-06 school year. Her project deals with brain injuries and what happens when nerves try to compensate.
"Based on all of my interactions with Tiffany, I consider her to be one of the brightest and most talented young students that I have encountered during my eight years here at MSU and, preceding that, during my 15 years as a faculty member at U.C., Berkeley," said John Miller, director of MSU's Center for Computational Biology and one of her instructors.
Kniepkamp's career path could easily have meandered other ways, considering her family, interests and abilities. She grew up on a farm and ranch near Lindsay. She performed for years with Troupe Kniepkamp, the band that involved her parents, grandparents, aunts, and cousins. One of her inspirations is her aunt, an instructor at Dawson Community College and someone whom Kniepkamp routinely addresses as "Debra Mae Kniepkamp Moore, Miss Eastern Montana 1972."
Kniepkamp has participated in Campus Crusade for Christ and volunteers with groups like the Red Cross and Eagle Mount. Her parents, Rick and Donna Kniepkamp of Circle, own R-K Auctions. One of Tiffany's sisters is an auctioneer and the other is an auction clerk. Both sisters live in Bozeman, but drive to eastern Montana for weekend auctions.
"I thought about it (becoming an auctioneer), but my sister does a really good job," Kniepkamp said.
Kniepkamp is an auction clerk, but hasn't been able to go home as much as she'd like. Besides working two jobs, she was studying for and taking exams this spring that would allow her into medical school.
She's not sure yet what medical specialty she'd like to pursue, Kniepkamp said. But one thing hasn't changed since she was four years old. She wants to become a doctor.
"I can't get my mind off of it," she said.
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or firstname.lastname@example.org