"Learning is an adventure!" says recent graduate and first-generation college student, Kayla Mueller. And since Kayla has graduated, the adventure hasn't stopped. She has combined her love of learning with a strong desire to make the world a better place. Two months after graduating from Northern Arizona University, Kayla began traveling the world as a volunteer.
Putting her philosophies into action, Kayla currently volunteers with a school for the poor in India where she teaches English, assists the school doctor, and works in the admissions office. Soon she'll be traveling to Dharamsala where she will be a contributing writer to a local magazine that focuses on merging East/West friendly relations and that features Tibetan refugees who live there. Following her time in India, she will do service at the Zen Buddhist Monastery of Thich Nhat Hanh in France as a staff member of the monastery's summer retreat. After that? She's planning to travel in Eastern and Northern Europe and work with an organization called Food for Life that feeds the hungry all over the world.
Kayla's volunteerism didn't just begin after graduation. As a student, Kayla jumped right in with campus activities that interested her. She was a member of, and later president of, STAND: NAU, an anti-genocide organization. She was also involved with United Christian Ministries and traveled with them to Guatemala during a Spring break. While maintaining an A average, she found that a busy schedule at school helped to prepare her for the work world.
Her political science professors also helped her think beyond the classroom. She liked that her classes had an "interactive, intimate sort of atmosphere" which inspired her to explore topics at a deeper level. She often discussed topics with other students and her professors long after the lesson was over.
Kayla had a strong support system at NAU and believes she owes her college success to making connections with faculty, staff, and students. She says that Carol Thompson, her internship adviser with the Political Science Department "was a constant inspiration for the peace and justice oriented work I was doing." And Kathleen Day with United Campus Ministries was a solid spiritual support for Kayla. "Kathleen gave me a home away from home sort of feeling as she was always there to talk about anything at all that might be bothering me."
Employment at NAU offered her the chance to make friends, too. At the Center for International Education (CIE), she was able to develop a strong foundation for her future work in international arenas. She says, "I loved my job as a student worker at the CIE. The friendships and experience I gained there I could not have found anywhere else."
Those connections continue to be important in her life today. Even though Kayla is halfway around the world, she stays connected to NAU by advising and encouraging new student leaders at the New Day Peace Center and STAND: NAU through email correspondence. She recommends to these students, "Realize just how unique this opportunity is for you to be at a university swimming with knowledgeable professors who want to help you learn. You don't have to wait until you're out of college to let the wind pick up your sails!"
Most importantly, Kayla adds, "Don't wait. Start making relationships and connections now!" Those early connections Kayla made are helping her now to reach out to the world.