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One Student's Transformative EKU Experience

Kalena Roark '15

Major: Elementary Education and Learning Behavioral Disabilities

A shy high school student from Georgetown, Kentucky, Kalena Roark preferred to stay in the background: "I was involved in so many organizations, but I was just a member. I loved drama class but always worked behind the scenes."

At EKU, Roark was invited to become a Student Alumni Ambassador. She was apprehensive but decided to do it. With encouragement, she began to take on more and more responsibility, and she noticed a change: "That experience alone molded me into a leader. I became president or vice president of several organizations. Four years ago, that was not me at all. The faculty and staff at EKU helped me to break out of my shell, value a balanced life and become a well-rounded person."

Many EKU faculty and staff reached out and made a personal connection, but there was one who went above and beyond. Choking back tears, Roark described her feelings toward her mentor, Jennifer Ott, director of alumni programming and student philanthropy: "She helped me make numerous connections, steered me toward continuing education options, gave me the confidence to try new things, and shared anything and everything. She was absolutely amazing!"

As Roark moved through her transformative college experience, she saw the potential to help others become their best selves. "For me, teaching is more than making sure students know facts. It is about building a bond — giving a student the courage and help they need to further their own education and achieve their goals."

Even as a child, Roark knew what she wanted to do. "I knew that education was a ticket to a brighter future." It would be a long journey from the shy little girl in elementary school to a confident sought-after school teacher in Hawaii, but Roark had decided early in life that she would begin that journey at EKU. "EKU's Education Program is phenomenal," she explained. Not surprisingly, she found out that she indeed had a knack for teaching. "Other careers might be more lucrative, but teaching was and is where my heart is," she said.

Roark served as vice president for the prestigious Student Alumni Ambassadors — also known on campus as the President's "right hand" organization. While serving on the SAA Executive Committee, she was given the opportunity to work in President Benson's office as a student liaison.

She became involved and invested in the campus revitalization plans. "President Benson came to one of our weekly meetings and shared his vision. In that moment, I remember thinking, 'Awesome! This guy has a vision, but not only does he have a vision, he has a plan, and the willpower to follow through with this plan in order to make our university even better than it already is.'

"I feel a real sense of pride and excitement as I watch my university transform into something Richmond has never seen before! As a student, and now as an alum, I have nothing but the utmost respect for President Benson and the entire maroon nation as we step out of our comfort zones, expand and move on to greater heights that will ultimately benefit the University and future students to come!

"I've already made my first donation to the EKU College of Education. I felt so awesome, excited and accomplished. I was giving back to my university — a university that had given so much to me. I hope I will always be able to make an annual gift to support others in their education.

"I thoroughly enjoyed my time at EKU," Roark exclaimed, "and I cannot wait to return to my alma mater to see the bigger and better beauty she has become!"

Read Kalena's story in EKU Magazine