Outstanding first-generation family and consumer sciences grad finds purpose in teaching

Kaiya Jenkins smiles with her dog on CSU's Oval.

Self-realization, growth, and service aptly describe Kaiya Jenkins’ journey at Colorado State University. Growing up in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, the family and consumer sciences major knew she wanted to attend college in-state, but no school resonated with her until she graced the Oval’s grand corridor.

“CSU was the last school I toured, and in the first five minutes of being on campus, I was completely sold,” Jenkins said. “Fort Collins felt familiar in a time when I had no idea where my life was heading – it felt like home.”

Advancing above adversity

Once Jenkins found her state, finding her passion would be the typical next step. To achieve this, however, she realized that she first needed to find herself after a tumultuous sophomore year.

“I had hit my lowest and I didn’t know how to pick myself back up. It was a mix of learning how to truly care for myself, and healing from hurtful experiences,” she said.

Facing the hardship of self-doubt, Jenkins tapped into her faith and reached out to her support system to help her reflect and rebuild. This introspective process led her to new beginnings, a renewed, positive mindset, and a new major in family and consumer sciences.

“I re-learned myself and discovered what I truly found value in and what I wanted my life to be like,” she said. “With help from my family, friends, teammates, pastors, and mentors, I was able to begin a whole new chapter.”

Jenkins credits her struggle as what fueled her to progress forward and confidently walk a new pathway.

Discovering ‘The Courage to Teach’

Amid her personal rediscovery, Jenkins reached out to one of her mentors for guidance and gained another mentor in the process.

“I reached out to a past teacher who taught child development at my high school, and I was wondering what her path looked like,” Jenkins said. “She got me in touch with an academic adviser, Dr. Dawn Mallette, a woman who became a role model to me throughout college and someone I cherish deeply.”

After meeting with Mallette, assistant professor in the School of Education and coordinator of the Family and Consumer Sciences Program, Jenkins gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for the family and consumer sciences major – an outlet to channel her passions for prevention and personal development education. While gaining a wealth of knowledge and skills in her family and consumer sciences courses, one book became integral to her personal and professional trajectory.

Kaiya Jenkins cheerleading at Canvas Stadium.
Jenkins cheered on CSU’s Cheerleading team for four years.

“In one of [School of Education Instructor] Karen Rowe’s classes, we read a book called The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer, and I don’t think I have ever read a book so fast,” Jenkins said. “I was captivated. I knew I was meant to become a teacher.”

With the lessons garnered from her instructors, Jenkins now aspires to pay it forward and inspire future students the same way mentors inspired her.

Looking forward and remembering Ram Country

In addition to her passion for learning and teaching, Jenkins is also a student-athlete who spent four years with CSU’s Cheerleading team, and her time outside of the classroom was equally fulfilling.

“My coaches Dawn Burton and Camilla Smith nurtured my passions as well, and they gave me opportunity after opportunity to commit to something bigger than myself,” said Jenkins. “In many moments when I didn’t believe in myself at all, their faith in me was never shaken.”

Kaiya Jenkins and a group of cheerleading teammates.
Jenkins with her CSU Cheerleading teammates.

From Burton, Jenkins gained the confidence to fight for equity, equality, and self-efficacy. The patience and selflessness of Smith motivated Jenkins to believe in herself again. Thanks to the mentorship of the two coaches, Jenkins seeks to fuse their characteristics in the classroom to serve and advocate for her future students.

As she looks ahead to her bright future, Jenkins plans to secure her teaching license, apply for family and consumer sciences teaching positions, and begin working towards her master’s degree in health and nutrition starting next fall. While Jenkins plots out her goals, she also takes time to reflect on her experience as a CSU Ram with pride.

“Some accomplishments that I am most proud of during my time at CSU are making the cheerleading team all four years, getting to cheer for CSU Men’s Basketball at the Mountain West Tournament and at March Madness, committing to the family and consumer sciences program, and being recognized as a first-generation college graduate,” she said. “My time at CSU has been a dream.”

Family and Consumer Sciences is an undergraduate degree program offered by the School of Education, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.