Growing up in Crestwood, Ill., “a tiny little south suburb of Chicago not too far from Midway Airport,” Kayla Anderson found her passion at the local ice rink.
Figure skating is a vital part of who she is – and something that draws her home every weekend to hone her skills with the Dazzlers, a synchronized skating team.
But it was from her aunt that Anderson found her future.
“When I was younger, my aunt used to work for a company in Chicago that worked with special needs kids and helped them to do fun activities that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do,” says Anderson, a freshman majoring in Special Education.
“She took me one of their field trips, to a ski hill, and it just made me fall in love with who these people are and want to become an advocate for these kids,” Anderson adds. “These kids – these people – can do amazing things. They are capable. They truly are amazing, and I want to help them understand that themselves – that they can do anything they put their mind to.”
Anderson is one of this fall’s class of Dean’s Achievement Scholars, which also includes Mireya Cerda, Gina Graham, Mia Moore, Davion Morgan and Linda Zavala.
Chosen for stellar academic performance in high school, each receives $1,000 for the fall and $1,000 toward the spring semester.
If they remain enrolled full time in their College of Education majors and maintain NIU grade point averages of 3.0, they all will receive renewed $2,000 Dean’s Achievement Scholarships for the 2022-2023 academic year.
Jennifer Johnson, senior director for Student Success, says she and her team are “so happy to welcome these scholars to the College of Education.”
“Not only do we see their past successes, but we look forward to their future achievements,” Johnson says. “We are delighted to share their journey, support their passion and have them join the COE Huskie family.”
“We’re thrilled to be able to financially award these outstanding students,” adds Christine Schweitzer, assistant director for Student Success. “Our Dean’s Achievement Scholars are deserving of such a high honor as they excelled and persisted in many ways at their previous college or high school. They have a bright future as leaders in the College of Education.”
For Anderson, the first fall semester of college is going well – unlike her final fall semester of high school.
Last November, she was unexpectedly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, spent a week in the hospital and was released Thanksgiving morning.
That experience, and the “new normal” that will dictate the rest of her life, stimulate her.
“It was really hard. I didn’t get to have a chance to adjust, or to have emotions of feelings about it. Right when it happened, I had to get used to it. I didn’t get to be upset, or to cry, or to get frustrated,” Anderson says.
“Now, everyone says I handled it well,” she adds, “and now that I’m away at school, it’s kind of driven me. This is my life. Nothing’s going to change, and it’s not something I can just away from. I try to make every single day a positive thing.”
Her diagnosis, and her response to it, also confirmed her beliefs about herself.
“I am able to preserve. I know how I am as a student. I know when I’m feeling unmotivated or overly motivated. I know how to settle myself or kick-start myself,” she says. “I’m also a teacher’s pet. I always love having some sort of relationship with my teachers or professors because it makes the courses so much easier.”
Nonetheless, the Dean’s Achievement Scholar recognition shocked her.
“I’ve always known that I am kind of a headstrong student, and I’ve always known that I was a good student, but I didn’t always picture myself to be the best in that kind of way,” Anderson says. “I was really proud of myself. It was very cool.”