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Senior pushes through academic challenges to earn degree

Feb 5, 2020
A woman poses between library shelves.
A woman poses between library shelves.

KOKOMO, Ind. – At the lowest point in Kiley Heuermann’s life, graduating from college felt like the impossible dream.

But she refused to give up.

Even after two academic dismissals from Indiana University Kokomo, she persisted — an effort that will pay off in May, when she finally earns the degree she began seven years ago.

“It will be one of the proudest moments of my life,” said Heuermann. “I’ll probably be so speechless to finally have everything I’ve worked so hard to achieve. I almost can’t believe it. I have never felt more grateful.”

The former struggling student is now considering graduate school, first to become a licensed clinical social worker and then earn a Ph.D. in child psychology. Knowing what she wants to do was part of the key to her success.

“I had to find my purpose in life, to motivate me,” she said. “I need to make a difference in people’s lives. I want to speak kindly and be a helping hand when needed.”

She’s already on that path, as an intern at the Bowen Center, which provides mental health and addiction recovery services in Wabash. After she completes her psychology degree, she will transition into a full-time job as a skills coach helping children with social and academic skills.

Heuermann’s own experiences give her empathy and insight into her clients’ needs.

“I had a hard time finding my way,” she said, because of bullying in middle and high school. “I know there are kids out there hurting, who are going through similar experiences.”

Her long-term goal is to lead suicide prevention and anti-bullying programming in schools.

All of it seemed out of reach during her early college struggles. Heuermann says she wasn’t ready to balance academics with her barista job when she first enrolled.

“I didn’t take school seriously,” she said. “I worked too many hours to focus on my classes.”

The work took a toll on her grades, leading to dismissal, another attempt, and another failure. 

By August 2016, she was ready to give up, and started looking into opportunities with the National Guard. The August 24 tornadoes that year were a turning point — her boyfriend lived in one of the apartment complexes that was heavily damaged, and the Starbucks where she worked was destroyed. She had been in both places not long before the storms, which provided a wake-up call. 

“It made me realize what it means to cherish life, and make the most of it,” she said. “I knew I had to give it one more try, learn from my mistakes, and make the effort.”

While she continued to work, and even moved from her hometown of Kokomo to Wabash, academic advisors Candace Rhodes and Megan Cooper helped her plan classes around her schedule. Kent Kauffman, a campus academic success coach, provided mentoring, a listening ear, and encouragement along the way.

“He told me not to let anyone limit my ability,” Heuermann said. “He told me I was capable of doing everything, and he was so proud of me. It meant the world to me.”

She’s also grateful for her parents’ and boyfriend’s unwavering support, no matter how long it took her to succeed.

“I think every journey is unique. The beauty of it is finding yourself in the mess, and coming out better in the long run,” she said. “I am so thankful to the people in my life who have helped me along the way. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.”

Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.

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