Kendal Nolan’s experiences and love for research benefits others through the Center for Community Partnerships at CSU

Kendal Nolan with CAM the Ram “I love working with people with disabilities and making a difference,” shared Kendal Nolan. “They have so much to offer the world.”

Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder/obsessive compulsive disorder, Nolan began her studies at Colorado State University in 2016. Determined to be a successful student, she become involved as a participant with the Department of Occupational Therapy’s Center for Community Partnerships in two of their programs: Opportunities for Post-Secondary Success and Bridge.

After participating in these programs over the past few years, she began helping others.

Tools for success

Nolan spent the past two summers working with the Bridge Program, which works mostly with freshman students entering CSU and occasionally with transfer students. The two and one-half day program, offered each year, supports a small group of students who are on the autism spectrum or who may experience challenges due to a brain injury and their families to ease the transition to college life.

Typically, the program focuses on areas such as stress management, test anxiety, and life skills. Nolan, however, suggested that the program also include more resources for the participants so she created a community resources sheet. She explained, “Time management and test anxiety skills can’t be learned in two and one-half days.”

Also, Nolan created a starter tool, “Tools for Success” which is a binder of campus resources for the participants including ways to succeed as a college student. “It is all a part of helping people feel more comfortable with CSU,” she continued.

“Kendal has contributed greatly to the CCP through research and program leadership,” said Julie Kothe, assistant director for the CCP. “She did an excellent job developing, coordinating and facilitating the Bridge program. Students and families in the program always appreciate her wealth of knowledge and ability to help students feel connected, prepared and less stressed as they begin their college careers. Kendal’s many leadership positions at CSU and in the community are evidence of her passion for supporting and empowering people with disabilities.”

Combining three interests into one

Helping others doesn’t end there for Nolan. As part of her requirement while majoring in human development and family studies, she completed an internship in Spring 2020 with Brittany Otter and the Student Disability Center. When Nolan set out to create a campus program during her internship, it was decided that it was valuable for the program to be student-driven, so she started by surveying students to get their input.

“It was important for me to go beyond the standard accommodations and to be able to provide an opportunity for people with disabilities to socialize with others who also experience challenges. Also, advocacy awareness was important,” shared Nolan.

Additionally, Nolan spoke with other universities to obtain ideas about their cultural centers and did some research regarding best practices. “I love program development, higher education and research. It was fun to combine all three into one,” concluded Nolan.

Discovering through research

Nolan continued to develop her research interests by assisting Susan Hepburn in HDFS, as well as with Kothe and James Graham, director in the CCP. “She has two traits that can’t be taught, but that make for a great collaborator: passion and conviction,” shared Graham. “I have really enjoyed working with her on recent research projects and seeing how she integrates her lived experiences into her research interests.”

“I not only enjoy research,” shared Nolan, “but I also I enjoy being creative. I love to discover and learn new things about people that I can relate back to myself.” Other areas of research that Nolan is passionate about are transition to adulthood, research with females on the autism spectrum, and social anxiety disorder. She is also interested in developing a program to address OCD and ASD.

Where it all started

Kendal baking with her nephew and niece
Kendal baking with her nephew and niece

When she is not doing research, working, studying, or spending time with family and friends, Nolan is a volunteer for the alliance for suicide prevention. She is also on the board of directors for the Arc of Larimer County.

“This is where it all started,” shared Nolan. “A friend recommended me as a board director. I started appreciating disabilities and learned how cool it is that you have something you can share with the world about your experiences—that you can turn something that you might think is a bad thing into a really cool thing. That is when I started realizing that I had a passion to help others.”

The Center for Community Partnerships is a service outreach within the Department of Occupational Therapy, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.