Class of 2020: Kayla Currie


Kayla Currie is from Mechanicsville, Virginia, and is graduating with a bachelor's degree in Youth and Social Innovation.

How did your journey bring you to Curry, and what is the most significant thing that has shaped your time while you've been here?

It definitely was not a straight path to the Curry School for me. I wanted to be a teacher throughout my entire childhood, from elementary school to high school. Once I began school at UVA, and upon thinking and speaking about my prospective major, I decided to go the route of becoming an economics major. I came from a low-income, single-parent household, and all I could think about at the beginning of my college experience was how I was going to escape living in poverty. In retrospect, my decision to study economics was a premature decision that almost closed other doors.

Just a few weeks after moving into my dorm, I started feeling anxious, sad, and lonely, among other negative, self-inflicting feelings. At the time, I did not know anything about mental health, that my feelings could be explained by anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress. My mental health distress took its toll on my grades, and I was actually placed on academic probation at the end of my first year. This was a huge wake-up call for me. Due to being on academic probation, I knew I had to do better in school or else I would get kicked out of the University, so I made sure to prioritize my mental health alongside my school work. I received the help that I desperately needed from CAPS at UVA, and was, fortunately, able to bounce back. I even ended up on the Dean’s list. 

In light of my experience, I began to rethink my entire life. I realized that studying economics was not in alignment with my passions or even my career aspirations. After a ton of reflection, I applied to the Curry School’s Youth and Social Innovation program. I also began studying psychology in the College. So, this may sound weird, but academic probation was the best thing that ever happened to me. Without the sudden wake-up call, I would not have prioritized my mental health and received the help that I had trouble asking for during my first year. Also, I would not have engaged in the personal reflection that resulted in me changing my path of study, ultimately leading me to where I am today. 

Is there someone at Curry who has made a special impact during your studies?

Professor Chauncey Smith made a huge positive impact on my studies. When I took his class, the first major assignment was a personal paper that allowed me to reflect on my journey to UVA and understand how that journey shaped my identity. The subsequent paper applied developmental knowledge and theory to everything I had described in the first paper, in order to gain an even deeper understanding. These assignments, along with Professor Smith’s encouragement and support, were pivotal in my college experience. In addition to that, Professor Smith was always checking in on me, even well after taking his class. I’ll forever appreciate having him on my support team.

What is one thing you learned here that surprised you?

Whether it be a project, a reflection, research, or required reading, I was surprised to have learned so much about myself, my evolving identity, while gaining knowledge about youth development and social innovation. In my coursework at Curry, I was able to obtain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the material in being able to relate it to my real life. It was essentially a win-win, mutually beneficial. I have the Curry faculty to thank for that, as they intentionally embed personal reflections and relations in their coursework. My greatest moments of growth in my time at Curry were a result of these assignments, assignments that allowed me to better understand my experiences and how those shaped who I am.

How are you feeling about being a member of the Class of 2020 in the middle of these unprecedented times?

This global pandemic has reminded me how precious time with family is, and that additional time is never guaranteed. I recently decided that I was going to take a few months to spend some time, time that was lost from being in school, with my family. These months are a part of a gap year that I am taking post-graduation, partly due to the pandemic, but mostly to prepare for and apply to law school for the 2021-2022 school year.