Kelly Wakefield is a special education major from Steward, IL
Hometown: Steward, IL
Year: Expected graduation: May 2021
What scholarships did you receive and why did you receive them? How has the financial support impacted your experience at NIU?
I received the following scholarships, which greatly helped me take care of my family and general expenses while pursuing my degree:
- Lawrence B. Hapeman Scholarship: This scholarship was on referral from my professors.
- Mary F. English Technology Award: This scholarship was based on need.
- NIU transfer scholarship: This was awarded because I was a transfer student in good standing.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you pursuing that as a major, or have you taken another path?
When I was growing up, I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I was blessed to be able to do that for eight years with my older three children. I have always loved working with children.
What is your major (and/or minor) and why did you decide on this course of study?
I am a special education major with a focus on visual impairments. I did not even know this was an area of study until my youngest child was born, and we discovered that he has a rare genetic retinal dystrophy. The whole process has been educational and started my interest in children who are blind or visually impaired.
What has been something you have found pleasantly surprising about your experience at NIU?
I expected the professors to be more distant and less compassionate, since it is a university instead of a community college. In our program, it has been just the opposite. All the professors genuinely want us to succeed and go above and beyond to help us.
How have you connected with other students at NIU?
The cohort I am in has only three students. We are pretty close with each other and keep in almost constant contact. We have to take a lot of general special education classes, and I've connected with other students through those classes. My son also attends NIU as a jazz performance major, and I have met students through him.
Are you involved in any student organizations or extra-curricular activities? If so, which ones? How have they added to your experience as a Huskie?
I belong to the National Society for Leadership and Success. At our meetings, I get to interact with students from various majors and at different points in their educational journeys. Since I was working almost full time up until a year ago, I didn't really have time for other organizations. I have always thought about joining the Pep Band or Jazz Band.
Who has been one of your favorite instructors/professors and why? What course did they teach?
Stacy Kelly is by far my favorite professor. She has taught us literary braille, advanced braille, assistive technology and basic information about the field of teaching visually impaired children. I don't feel like I would have survived literary braille is she wasn't my professor! That was the most challenging course I have ever taken. Professor Kelly made it fun and kept us motivated. She was very supportive and encouraging.
Where is your favorite spot on campus or in the community? Why are you drawn to it?
My favorite campus spot is the Learning Center in Gabel Hall. The people who congregate there are mostly education majors. It is welcoming and convenient. There is free coffee and microwaves for use. My classmates and I have spent many hours there collaborating on our assignments.
What advice would you give to a student who is applying to colleges?
My advice would be to seek out a professor connected to the program you wish to join. Asking questions about that specific field of study and getting information from someone who teaches it will help you decide if it would be a good fit for you. Advisors are helpful in planning the general path you will take to your degree, but professors provide specific information on your field of study.
Coming to college, what is something that you have had to learn to do differently?
I hadn't been in school for 25 years! I had to relearn how to take notes and how to study. Time management is a huge thing to accomplish. I am much more organized in my planning and tracking of assignments and daily life in general. Having four kids and going to school is a challenge, especially now with a lot of remote learning.
What do you do to relax or recharge?
My husband and I like to go on paranormal investigations. It's a way to socialize with our group of friends and get a little "adrenaline rush" without engaging in a dangerous activity. I love to read, and I also tend to binge-watch shows on Netflix and Hulu.
Is there anything else you'd like to share about your NIU Huskie story?
To anyone considering going back to school as a nontraditional student, I say go for it! NIU is a great place to complete a degree or expand on a degree you already have.