With dreams of becoming a registered dietitian, ASU Online student Jennifer Keefer had originally planned to attend the university on campus. But life had other plans, and a serious fall down a flight of stairs put those dreams on hold.
Jennifer’s fall triggered a congenital problem called chiari malformation, a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal. It took three years for her to receive the diagnosis, at which point she underwent brain surgery. Though she has recovered and says she is in a lot better place than she was four years ago, the condition is lifelong. Jennifer’s arteries suffered damage, and she now has heat intolerance — not ideal when living in Arizona.
“Some days are worse than others as far as cognitive abilities, so having to drive or even living on campus no longer seemed like an option,” Jennifer says. “There’s no telling whether this is lifelong, but there is hope, and I have a good team of medical professionals.”
She eventually got a job in the front office at a local high school, where she enjoyed talking with students. One day, she had the opportunity to give a 15-minute presentation on nutrition to a computer class. She walked out of the room wanting to become a high school health teacher, and knew it was time to find a way to go back to school. When she discovered ASU Online’s degree in Health Education and Health Promotion, she knew it was the right fit.
Though she was initially afraid her injuries would hinder her ability to keep up with her coursework, Jennifer immediately took advantage of every resource offered to online students, and says the support was vital to her success. She made an appointment with her Success Coach to identify where her struggles were, how she could overcome them, and how she could manage her workload.
“We talked through what I could do when I got lost, how I could reach out to my professors and find different ways to handle stress,” she says. “All of my professors have been wonderful and understanding, as long as I’m willing to speak up and ask for help.”
Her first semester back in school was the most challenging, and Jennifer credits her Success Coach with having a major impact on her staying with the program. She also navigated through time management strategies to discover when and how she learns best.
“I take a lot of mini breaks, and if there are lectures, I will go for a walk and listen to them,” she explains. “I also have my notes up on the mirror or the wall so that I can study while I’m getting ready.”
Once she graduates, Jennifer still plans to teach health education to high school students. She has also thought about attending graduate school to be able to teach health education online at the university level. Long-term, however, her ultimate goal is to create a radio station — a combination of music and talk.
“It would be an hour or two a couple days per week of health education and promotion on certain topics, with an on-call psychologist or somebody who can refer whoever calls in to places where they can find assistance,” Jennifer describes. “Plus, positive music from any genre. There is so much negativity in the world, we need a bit of positive spin.”
Recently, Jennifer had the opportunity to share her own positive spin on her injury at an event put on by ASU’s College of Health Solutions called “Failing Forward.” The monthly event brings together students and teachers, who speak about a failure they’ve experienced in their lives and how it shaped them.
“For me, the main topic was ‘failing’ the stairs!” Jennifer says with a laugh. “It was about what it meant to overcome my injury and be able to attend ASU despite all of those issues, as well as what I’ve learned.”
One thing she has learned for sure about being an online student: she is not alone.
“You can’t hang out with students before class, but ASU Online bridges that gap through email and hallway conversations,” Jennifer says. “Success Coaches, advisors … everyone is there to help bridge the gap between being online and being face-to-face. As a student, you won’t feel alone if you speak up and ask for help. You’ll feel like part of the community.”