The Spartan experience is unique to every individual. Celebrating Homecoming, strolls past Beaumont Tower, and the endless late-night studying all can result in lasting memories, but for most people, the most lasting memory of all is Commencement Day. This year’s unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic caused a dramatic shift in how graduation was handled, but even so, Jenna Kesh, a recent MSU Alumna, found that her time at RCPD was the most memorable piece of her Spartan experience.
Unlike most Spartans, many of whom don’t get to experience working alongside the MSU Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD), Jenna notes that her most memorable moments at MSU are from Tower Guard and the Building Opportunities for Networking & Discovery (BOND) Program for students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Jenna spent her sophomore year volunteering for Tower Guard, and then later became a peer mentor for the RCPD BOND program.
In partnership with the RCPD, Tower Guard, a sophomore student organization, works diligently to create a more accessible campus environment for students with disabilities. As a Tower Guard alumnus, Jenna notes that through her volunteering with the organization, she was able to discover how important it is to provide an equal opportunity for success for students with disabilities on campus.
“After joining Tower Guard, I saw how much of a need there was for helping students with disabilities right on campus. Working with the RCPD taught me that while some students may need help navigating campus or organizing their coursework, others just need a friend,” says Jenna. “I have loved being able to hang out with so many students and help them get out of their comfort zone and have fun.”
One of the most highlighting moments of the Tower Guard year is dedicated to the Shamrock 5k, a fundraiser that donates all of its proceeds to the RCPD. As one of the event’s Run Chairs, Jenna found herself constantly busy as the anticipation of race day approached. However, one night, her dedication to putting on the perfect event was halted, as her team members ordered her to study for an Organic Chemistry midterm the following morning. She knew then that her membership in Tower Guard was worth cherishing and had impacted her more than she had imagined.
“Even in times of stress and moments of Pre-5K panic, my fellow Tower Guard members always looked out for me and made sure I wasn’t forgetting to prioritize my academics, in addition to the 5K,” says Jenna. “The people that I had the privilege to work alongside made every moment as a member of Tower Guard unforgettable. When I first applied, I had no idea just how much of an impact this organization would have on me.”
As a pre-physician’s assistant student, Jenna was constantly juggling a busy schedule. But in addition to focusing on academics and Tower Guard, nothing could stop her from further assisting individuals with disabilities. Having had previous experience working with students on the autism spectrum, Jenna knew that not all disabilities are made visible to the naked eye. She wanted to make use of her passion and past experiences to assist with students struggling with interaction and social environments. This why she felt it was best to become an ally with the BOND Program.
“What I loved most about BOND was that it was always something that I looked forward to. Whether it was a trip to Potter Park Zoo or Union Bowling on Wednesday night, there was never a dull moment,” says Jenna. “I would say that my understanding of the autism spectrum, in particular, has widened dramatically thanks to the BOND program, and while I am still continuing to learn more to become a better advocate, I know I am now able to look at the world in a way that I wasn’t before.”
As she continued to work with the RCPD during her senior year, Jenna found that the BOND program made a huge difference in her undergraduate experience. The students and staff she encountered through the department created a newfound home for her on campus. Seeing as the unprecedented times swiftly ended the year, Jenna values the opportunity that she would have had to reminisce with Tower Guard alumni and say her farewells. She appreciates the opportunity to meet different people and build memories that she knows will last throughout her lifetime.
“My graduation experience was definitely far from conventional, but I am grateful to all of the RCPD staff that made it memorable, especially the BOND program for hosting an awesome virtual graduation celebration,” says Jenna. “I would have loved to say goodbye to the BOND participants I have been with for the past 3 years and walk into the RCPD one last time as a student to give lots of hugs to all the people that have helped me along the way.”
After earning her Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience from the MSU College of Natural Science, Jenna hopes to apply the lessons she’s learned as she continues her academic path. Currently applying for physician assistant school, Jenna will be taking time to utilize her academics as a medical assistant at a family practice. From her unexpected ending at MSU to her future career as a surgical PA in orthopedics, she cannot wait to see how her experiences have prepared her with various skills and outlooks.
“If there is one thing I would take away from working with the RCPD, it would be to remember to smile often and always make time for some fun, even when it feels like there isn’t time to spare.”