Moving outside of her comfort zone is nothing new for Kara Kidwell. Truth be known, her willingness to take risks brought this non-traditional student to UT Martin where she's on track to earn a communications degree.
The Florida native attended college before deciding to enter the work world. She gained valuable experience at several companies, including one that leased communications space on cell towers and rooftops. However, experience as an animal shelter volunteer led to an opportunity to live in Las Vegas and work as a fundraiser for a non-profit animal shelter, a position that expanded her communications skills.
Kara's transition to Northwest Tennessee began when her dad retired as the owner of assisted living facilities, and he moved with his wife to Martin and established Lake Nowhere Mule and Donkey Farm. "I came to visit one summer, and my dad encouraged me to go back to school since the campus was so close here, and it was a good school", she said, adding, "I moved to a place where I didn't know anybody in Las Vegas, and kind of had to start over and make friends, and then had to come here and start over and make friends. It's been an interesting journey thus far."
Kara resumed her college career where she left off as a communications major with an emphasis in public relations. Her knowledge of assisted living caused her to consider a health care career, but public relations also was "a way to communicate with people and to help them." Her fundraising and event-planning experience with the animal shelter also provided a strong foundation for a public-relations career.
Although Kara brings real-world experience to her academic work, she's finding additional opportunities to learn by doing. "It's really hands on," she said of the communications major. "You get in things that you're not sure that you want to go into, like my introduction to broadcasting class that I took with Mr. (Rodney) Freed (communications faculty member). He had us in the studio, hands on the equipment, learning how to edit projects, how to record things, and I found that interesting."
She also just completed a public-relations strategies class that engaged a local business as a client. "And the classes are small, so it actually lends itself to, I think, a better learning atmosphere, because you do get a little more time with the professors." The availability of professors is also good, noting, "They're always willing to kind of go the extra mile, change their schedule a little bit to meet with you if the need arises, and I think that's a good thing."
Kara will further expand her resume through a semester-long communications exchange program this fall at London Metropolitan University. It's an opportunity that fits perfectly with her sense of adventure. "You're stepping way out of your comfort zone for one, and you're really challenging yourself as a person to live in another country. You're so use to one place, stepping into some new surroundings, you kind of have to be on your toes a little bit more." She's already a seasoned traveler with trips already under her belt to multiple destinations in the U.S., Mexico, The Netherlands, London and Paris. A trip in March to London and Paris was part of an international public-relations class that even produced a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II of England as her motorcade passed by.
A significant leadership opportunity is just ahead as the Southeastern Journalism Conference comes in February 2012 to UT Martin. She's serving as student president in charge of planning the event that will bring some 300 communications students from eight southern states to campus. "This is my internship," she said. "This is what I'll be getting credit for, and it's just the chance to kind of refine some of the skills that I already had in place. So I'm excited about it."
While travel is exciting, being on campus has its rewards. "You meet people from all different walks of life, and being a non-traditional student, you meet some of the more traditional students, and you learn things from them," she said. "You can always learn something from somebody, no matter what." She also appreciates how hard work in the classroom is noticed. "It's nice when a professor takes you aside and says, 'You know, you're doing a really good job in class. Keep up the good work.' A little praise goes a long way."
What's next for Kara Kidwell after UT Martin? She's open to all possibilities, no matter where those take her; just what you'd expect from someone who spends very little time in her comfort zone.