Sarena Mitchell has always wanted to help people. Growing up in Monmouth, Ill., she knew several people with autism, and saw that they were often misunderstood.
"I want to be the person in their life that makes them feel normal and loved," she said.
After graduating with a Bachelor's degree in psychology from St. Ambrose University on May 11, Sarena will begin working at Balance Autism in Davenport, Iowa.
"I will be an Applied Behavioral Specialist," she said. "I will help provide intensive, one-on-one services to children with autism in their Autism Early Intervention Center."
Later on, Sarena plans to attend graduate school to study speech language pathology.
"In the future, I want to be able to help patients physically with my speech pathology knowledge, as well as mentally with my psychology knowledge," she said.
One psychology professor in particular made a big impact on Sarena.
"I loved all classes taught by Dr. Correa Kaiser," she said. "Her love for the subject radiates as she teaches, and I took away so much from her courses."
Studying in the library was always helpful for Sarena. She loved the many places available for students to work.
"The library is massive, and I spent majority of my time there working on projects, assignments, and reading," Sarena said.
She also worked in the Curriculum Library with Teri McDonald, and got to know her and many of the education professors.
"Teri became my campus mom, and we have a bond that I believe will last a lifetime," Sarena said. "The education professors have become good friends of mine, too."
Through her work in the education department, she participated in the Great Pen Pal Project. SAU student would write to students at local elementary schools, and then meet them for lunch.
"I did this many times through my work-study job, and feel as if I'm a better person because of it," Sarena said. "It showed me the importance of being a role model."
Another favorite memory from SAU will be all the people she met and friends she made.
"I have made so many memories with my roommates in the dorms, and formed lifelong friendships," Sarena said.