When I was three years old, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s. In fact, I didn’t speak my first words until I was in first grade. Even then, I didn’t want to talk to people who weren’t close to me. My mom and teacher were worried about my development, so I began speech therapy that lasted until middle school.
As a freshman in high school, I had gained enough confidence to start participating in sports. Because I was determined to continue on the path I started in speech therapy, I took classes that forced me to work on my communication challenges. And yet, I was still very shy, introverted and continued to struggle.
As I reached my senior year, several offers to run track or play volleyball at the college level started racing in. Honestly, growing up in the St. Joseph area, Missouri Western would not have been my first choice. However, on my first campus visit, I fell in love with the atmosphere here. It felt like home.
I signed to run track at Missouri Western and have loved the experience ever since.
From the very beginning, everyone has been incredibly supportive. I came to college still struggling academically and was encouraged to take an English 100 course to improve my writing. Using my new writing skills, journaling became my comfort through the emotions I was still battling in my personal life.
Academically, I faced another set of challenges and worked with the math tutors in the Center for Academic Support to overcome those hurdles. Because of the help I received there, I became a tutor for a sports psychology course.
During my sophomore and junior years, I was a Transition Mentor for Griffon Edge and Griffon Orientation. These programs helped me spread my wings as an incoming freshman. I somehow went from being an introvert to now being a huge extrovert!
I have recently been accepted into the highly selective Health Education and Psychology of Physical Activity master’s program at KU. With the education and experience gained through my undergraduate studies, I earned the opportunity to be the Graduate Assistant for the Strong Girls mentoring program in the Kansas City area. This will help me pay for my postgraduate studies.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of Missouri Western. My professors, my mentors – and everyone I encountered on my climb – helped guide me on this path to overcome my challenges and pursue my dreams.
Dr. Russell has been my mentor since I took my first psychology course and discovered my love for sports psychology. I came to Missouri Western wanting to be an athletic trainer, but once I took his psychology course, I knew that this was truly the path for me. As an athlete myself, I am able to connect with other athletes and understand their everyday mental health struggles.
Dr. Russell, as well as other faculty and staff members, have pushed me to be the best I can be – as an athlete, as a student and as a person. I have worked hard to be where I am today, but it is with the help and support of my mentors that I am thriving in a way I would not have thought possible as a young girl.
Recently, I have been able to assist Dr. Russell and his colleague Dr. Gerlach with a research project. We submitted a proposal for approval and are awaiting a response in order to move forward with the experiment. Even though I am graduating in May, I hope to come back this summer to see the project through.
In addition to my academics, co-curricular activities have had a large impact on my life. The time I spent within Missouri Western’s track and field community has been wonderful, and the relationships I have built and lessons I have learned will travel with me through life.
Serving as a Transition Mentor, a tutor for the Center for Academic Support, and now going into my Graduate Assistant position with the Strong Girls program, I have been able to share the story of my struggles and successes, and I hope I have helped others have the faith that they can accomplish what they set their minds to.
As I reflect on the challenges I faced as a child, I am excited to help children and young adults overcome their own challenges. I was there. I faced similar hardships. With the resources and mentorships provided to me during my time at Missouri Western, I am confident that I can help them prevail like I did.
As I move on from Missouri Western, I will remember the foundation that I received here. With the support and guidance of the professors and community, the little girl I was before coming to Missouri Western – the little girl who didn’t speak her first words until first grade – is able to pursue the goals that she once couldn’t articulate.