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Prep Leads to a Life of Purpose, Service and Achievement

Relationships and Encouragement Lead to Groundbreaking Scientific Research
Penny Beuning ’90

Dr. Penny Beuning ’90, Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Northeastern University is certainly living a life of purpose, service, and achievement. Her educational formation at the Prep School invited her to be inquisitive and develop the courage and confidence to question everything, which serves her well today. Currently, Penny’s research aims to determine how cells respond to DNA damage and maintain the accuracy of genetic information. As part of her work, she seeks to develop DNA damage tolerance enzymes and DNA repair proteins as tools for biotechnology applications.

Penny’s lab also works with a Northeastern colleague to determine fundamental aspects of enzyme function that can be applied to protein engineering, focusing on enzymes involved in cellular metabolism. This cutting edge research has significant implications on the impact of chemotherapy treatments and most recently COVID research.

“My experience at the Prep School not only changed my life, it changed the direction of my life.
If I hadn’t gone there, I don’t know where I would be. It is really an amazing place!”
-Penny Beuning ’90

Growing up in Avon, MN, Penny had attended public school before making the switch to Prep. She quickly realized as a freshman, that even on the advanced math track she was on, there was only one more math class in the district that she could take. “I thought that didn’t seem quite right, so I called the Prep School and scheduled my own visit day. When I talked to the front desk person, she said ‘usually we talk to parents.’ My parents were very supportive of my desire to attend Prep. The Prep school was generous in terms of financial aid and I was able to participate in the school’s work study in the summer. Before my stepdad passed away a few years ago, our family had a long conversation about how much of a sacrifice it was for my parents – even with the generous financial aid we received. I am grateful that they strongly believed it was the right thing to do. From my standpoint, it was completely worth it!”

While at Prep, Penny took two full years of chemistry and two years of biology. This exposure to the sciences deepened her love for science and set her on a trajectory toward a satisfying career. Even after graduation, Penny returned to her roots and sought advice from her beloved teachers. “Mr. Percuocco would share teaching strategies with me as I went on in my career. Having that kind of relationship with my high school chemistry teacher was remarkable. The relationships that are forged at Prep are without compare.”

Penny credits her teachers at Prep for the enthusiasm they brought to class, making science incredibly fun and engaging. “The ability to spend so much time in these courses was really fabulous! One afternoon after class, Mr. Froehle encouraged me to pursue a career in science. He went on and on about all the career possibilities in the field of science. I was the first person in my family to go to college –I had no idea what the opportunities were. He took time to have those conversations with me – which was really fabulous!”

While the education at Prep was great, Penny also feels blessed to have met some pretty remarkable people. One in particular! “I met my husband at Prep while doing work study. Mark and I both owe a debt of gratitude to the Prep school – we’re very grateful.” Like Penny, her husband, Mark Williams ’88, fell in love with science as well and is currently a Professor of Physics and the Chair of Physics Department at Northeastern University. Penny and Mark have made a commitment to give generously to Prep as they want to invest in students at Prep in the same way scholarship donors invested in them. We are proud to call Penny and Mark Preps!