Kendra Lilley: Taking Leaps

Kendra Lilley: Taking LeapsHappenstance? Serendipity? Looking back on her six years at UNCG, graduate student Kendra Lilley says a lot of things have worked out in her favor. Those around her know that those “happy accidents” weren’t accidents at all – they were simply opportunities that she was brave enough to pursue. Kendra’s willingness to step out of her comfort zone and take a leap has taken her places she never expected.

Lilley moved to Hendersonville, North Carolina from the twin cities of Minnesota when she was ten, and planned on returning north to attend the University of Minnesota to study English or journalism. When she was wait-listed at UofM she ended up going with her back-up school – UNCG.

“Although UNCG was my back-up school, no part of me was disappointed to end up there. When I toured the university in high school I got a warm, exciting, diverse feeling from the campus and could see myself there easily. Looking back, I see that so much of where I am today is a direct result of being at UNCG. I am so grateful for the opportunities that this institution has provided for me.”

When she was applying to UNCG she had to submit her intended major. Her mother encouraged her to check off “Communications Studies” because she thought Kendra would have a knack for it. As it turns out, her mother was right.

“Lo and behold, I ended up here, and I took CST 105 and fell completely in love with everything about Comm Studies.  As I continued through relational communications and team communications, I just had all these synapses firing. I just really fell into the groove with that.”

Kendra chose to be in the Make a Difference living-learning community during her first year. Students in the Make a Difference House live in the same residence hall, take several classes together, and participate in community service projects.

“That was a really, really great way to get connected for me – instantly. Not only was I meeting other people at UNCG who had common interests to mine, but I was also getting to explore the greater Greensboro community and Piedmont-Triad area. It was just really rewarding, getting to explore Greensboro and the people of Greensboro, and it helped me stay connected and feel like there was a purpose for me here.”

Her community service interests led her to a class on community leadership. As part of the class, Kendra had to create a vision and try to bring it to life. While her goal of creating a campus garden didn’t work out at that time, the experience was still a valuable one.

“That whole process of learning who to reach out to, how to gather resources, and really just let your dream be known and guide that process was really rewarding for me.”

Through that class, she met someone who worked in Outdoor Adventures (OA) in Campus Recreation. He encouraged her to go on one of their trips, and she was hooked. She ended up going on several more trips, and then was hired to work on OA staff.

“For the first time at UNCG, I had a close-knit community. Outdoor Adventures became my family. I started learning so much about the outdoors. I felt myself falling into that role of that strong, confident leader that I never thought that I could be, and it just happened so seamlessly – as a result, I believe, of the training that was set in place. I’ve seen so many great leaders come out of this department.”

Kendra also started working with the Speaking Center, and spent a semester of her junior year studying abroad in Sweden. When she returned to UNCG’s campus, she began thinking about graduate school. She struggled to figure out her next step. While she loved her communications studies courses, she didn’t see herself pursuing a master’s degree in that topic. As she explored her options and interests, her desire to be involved in helping professions in human services led her to pursue counseling.

“My first semester in the program, I was struggling with feeling like my identity as a counselor or student affairs professional wasn’t really sinking in. I wasn’t sure what I was doing there or how good I would be at what I was hoping to do, and on top of that I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do – I only had a vague idea.”

In her second semester, she gained experience in clinical counseling and discovered her passion.

“I completely fell in love with that setting – just being one-on-one with real people with real problems and meeting them where they were. It was a shocking feeling for me because I had been so anxious and unsure about being able to be in that environment. “

Today, Kendra is in her final year as a graduate student in the Counseling and Educational Development program, interning as a counselor in the counseling center at Salem College, and continuing to work as a graduate student in Outdoor Adventures.  She’ll be crossing the stage with her cohort in May 2014. She hopes to find a job in a college or university counseling clinic, but is open to whatever opportunities come her way.

“Campus involvement has been the foundation for my identity development. I came in – not as a blank slate, but as someone who was just like, ‘All right world, what do you have for me?’  – and looking back I’ve just come so far and done so much. I started out as really unsure and really struggling to see myself in a variety of different roles, and I feel like every time I’ve just taken those leaps into these different campus involvement opportunities, I’ve filled those roles to the greatest ability that I have. That has shown me that I have great abilities to rise to any occasion. UNCG has just provided so many meaningful opportunities. A lot of the things that I have done here would not have been possible without the individuals working in different departments and organizations and the possibilities offered through those.”