When Jessica Kraus thinks about her motivation to make the world a better place, two people immediately come to mind: her younger sisters.
“My motivation and drive has always come from a place of doing good and leaving an impact,” Kraus said. “I have two little sisters who I’m very close with, and I want to do good and be a role model for them.”
That desire to make a difference is part of what makes Kraus, a graduating senior in parks, recreation and tourism management, the perfect fit among NC State University’s Caldwell Fellows – students selected during their first year at the university who share a passion to learn, grow and serve others.
It’s a program that Kraus fell in love with and immediately applied to, but wasn’t sure she would be chosen to join.
“I had applied, honestly, thinking that I had no shot in the world,” she said. “I felt like other people were way more qualified.”
Now, as she prepares for graduation, Kraus reflects on how significant her acceptance to the Caldwell Fellows Program was.
“It has been a huge part of my experience at NC State,” she said. “We talk about it being a community of fellows, and that’s so true. Some of my best friends have come from the program.”
What’s more, Kraus said she has benefited from Caldwell alumni who have helped with internships, advice on classes and introductions to people in her field.
Leadership development is considered a key aspect of the Caldwell Fellowship and it came in handy for Kraus during her three years as a resident advisor.
“I’ve been challenged for sure as an R.A. and learned how to overcome that,” she said.
In fact, she looks at her experience as a Caldwell Fellow as central to becoming the person she is today.
“The Caldwell Fellows program is such a great program – it adds to my academic experience in such a unique way that I don’t always think about the financial impact. But that is important, too.”
The Caldwell Fellowship pays $4,200 annually toward Kraus’ out-of-state tuition cost, which she said eases her burden and puts her mind at ease.
She also receives a $1,800 enrichment stipend that has helped her develop as a leader and community member. She traveled abroad to Mexico in a type of exchange experience – students from NC State spent three weeks in Mexico and students from Mexico spent two weeks in Raleigh. Also thanks to those funds, Kraus took part in an eight-day wilderness trip to California.
“It’s been great to have experiences that I definitely would not have had,” she said.
Then there’s the experiences that go beyond financial assistance. As a sophomore, Kraus served on a Caldwell Fellows service-learning team at Prairie Ridge Ecostation in Raleigh, where she and a team of classmates worked in the Nature PlaySpace. The next year, she returned as a teaching assistant for the Prairie Ridge team.
Each experience has contributed significantly to her goals for the future. Kraus plans to spend a year working before returning to school to pursue her J.D. in environmental law. From there, she hopes to work on policy and law interpretation for leaders in parks and recreation.
She credits her college experiences and the advice of Dr. Janice Odom, director of the Caldwell Fellows program, for leading her down this path.
“It’s very much an open-door policy in the Caldwell Fellows office,” Kraus said. “Any time I was struggling, trying to figure out where I wanted to go – and that was about two years – all I had to do was send Dr. O an email and ask to chat.”
“She never told me what to do but helped me get to it on my own.”
That support, along with the support of the donors who make the Caldwell Fellowships possible, leaves Kraus feeling grateful for the opportunity and energized for the future.
“Being able to attend such a world-class university as NC State is an honor, but for some students, it’s also a bit of a burden financially,” she said. “To have the support and confidence that there are people supporting you is extremely humbling, but also motivating.”
“It motivated me to do better in my classes and in serving my community.”