The COVID-19 pandemic impacted just about everyone’s life. For Peyton Badger, it’s affecting her future.

Badger, a junior at the College of Idaho, originally enrolled at the four-year liberal arts college in Caldwell with an eye on studying pre-med and eventually becoming a doctor. The past three years led to a different plan.

Peyton Badger is a Heritage Scholar at the College of Idaho. Her scholarship is funded by the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health.

“I’m now leaning toward mental health graduate level work in psychology,” she said. “What I’ve been able to see during my whole college experience is how big of an issue that mental health is. I think going to school in a pandemic definitely changed things.”

Badger was the recipient of a Heritage Scholarship at the College of Idaho that was funded by the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health. Heritage Scholarships are awarded to highly qualified students with exceptional intellectual ability. They are a part of the school’s Gipson Honors Program, which is described as an intimate and cohesive community of about 90 students. She is majoring in biomedical science with minors in psychology and art.

Her research work in chemistry labs and through internships helped her grasp the science and how it’s applied in a clinical setting to help people. Idaho has a severe shortage of mental health providers, so her decision is impactful.

“I feel Peyton will be a valuable asset to the field of mental health, in whatever capacity she chooses,” says Sara Helmer, a licensed clinical social worker who supervises Badger’s internship. “She not only listens intently, she listens with the intention of understanding. She’s eager to learn and takes feedback exceptionally well.”

John Thurston, a chemistry professor at the C of I, describes Badger as a model student and a mentor to younger students.

“Peyton is everything that I hope to encounter in an undergraduate research student — she is highly motivated, intellectually curious and willing to embrace the numerous challenges that come with any sort of ongoing scientific endeavor,” he said. “Over the past few years, Peyton has grown into the senior student in my group and is now responsible for mentoring new students as they are learning the nuances of their individual projects.”

Peyton Badger says running does wonders for her mental health.

In addition to her work in the classroom and in clinics, Badger is a member of the College of Idaho track and cross country teams. The Mountain View (Meridian) High graduate did suffer a broken femur and hasn’t been able to participate this year.

“I miss it so much,” she said. “I really like being a part of a team.”

Running is more than competing, though. It plays a big part in her own mental health.

“Running really centers me and gives me time to reflect,” she said. “At least I’ve been able to now get on a bike or elliptical trainer because that makes me feel better. I think that promoting the healthy aspects of life is so important.”

Badger’s immediate plans include summer research and continuing to rehabilitate her leg injury before figuring out her next steps academically.

“I am very excited to see what she will accomplish this summer (where she will be developing new technologies to combat pathogenic microorganisms,” Professor Thurston said. “I have absolutely no doubt that she will be highly successful in her chosen career path.”

Until then, Badger is thankful for the scholarship.

“This scholarship allowed me to go to the College of Idaho, and I wouldn’t be the person I am right now without coming here,” she said.