When Kayla Janssen's grandfather died of pancreatic cancer during her freshman year in high school, the hospital social worker who assisted their family during that time triggered an a-ha moment.
Janssen realized that her passion for supporting others through tough times was a natural fit with that profession.
"Big medical things can happen in your life, and they might be scary and overwhelming and expensive, and you don't know how to necessarily cope with that," Janssen said. "That's why I'm interested in being a health care social worker. It's nice to have somebody that will be there to support you, connect you to the resources that you need and make sure all your referrals are in order."
Working as a volunteer at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, Janssen has also witnessed the comfort that therapy dogs can provide, and her long-term goals include training a dog to assist her in her future practice as a case manager at a medical facility. But that's five to ten years down the road perhaps.
As the next step toward that goal, Janssen, who is graduating a year early from the bachelor of social work program, will enter the master's program with a concentration in health care in the fall.
During her three years on the Urbana-Champaign campus, Janssen has distinguished herself in a variety of roles. She was one of two BSW students who, along with two master's students, were named Social Work Healthcare, Education and Leadership Scholars for the 2019-2020 Academic Year.
The program subsidized each recipient's field placement at a local social service organization, and Janssen spent the spring semester as an intern with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health Department.
She and other CUPHD interns conducted a health education outreach program called Germ Busters that taught local schoolchildren proper techniques for covering coughs and washing their hands.
Janssen's numerous activities as an undergraduate — which included serving as an ambassador for the school and the university at recruitment events and by phone, leading visitors on campus tours and steering the Bachelor of Social Work Association — led to her being selected to participate in the LeaderShape Institute, a six-day retreat.
"I had such a great time learning with all those students and getting a new kind of family that I could talk to and develop my vision for the future as a leader," she said. "That was something that will really stand out to me when I reflect back on my college experience."
Another seminal experience was a social work course, she said, which explored issues of identity, social justice, biases and cultural values. For one assignment, she interviewed a friend from India and discovered that their outlooks on life were vastly different.
Although her three years as a tour guide familiarized her with many campus landmarks, the School of Social Work building holds a special place in Janssen's heart for providing a close-knit community of like-minded humanitarians and dedicated faculty members who enriched her educational journey and fostered her personal and professional growth.