Sometimes it takes a village to raise a Blugold.
Just ask Kendra Harding, a soon-to-be UW-Eau Claire graduate who credits her village — a support system that spans the campus and three continents — with helping her discover her passions and prepare for her future.
The Green Bay native came to UW-Eau Claire certain that she was at the right school, but uncertain which of her many interests she should pursue as a major.
As she struggled to find her path forward, she found all sorts of people who were anxious to help her find her way.
“I was undecided, but my advisor continuously questioned me on my likes, dislikes, top interests, strengths, weaknesses, etc.,” says Kendra. “I was so indecisive, but she did a great job of digging for information within me.”
Among the things that came out during those conversations were Kendra’s goals to study abroad and to become fluent in Spanish, a language she had studied in high school.
“The thought of being able to communicate in another language completely fascinates me,” Kendra says. “I always knew I wanted to pursue Spanish, but I didn’t want to make it my main focus. I wanted it to be more of an emphasis or a compliment to another major so I made it a minor.”
So while she knew language and study abroad would be part of her UW-Eau Claire journey, Kendra still was struggling to find the right major.
“I’m a planner so I would catch myself trying to look into my future and picture myself in a ‘dream’ career, industry, region or something of the like,” Kendra says. “I envied those who had their mind set on what they wanted and were able to throw all of their energy toward their dream. I had the energy, but I was still waiting for that dream or vision. There were so many directions I could go and I was taught that I could succeed at anything, so how could I choose? I had all these interests, but needed to find my passion.”
Eventually, her advisor suggested she take a marketing class.
After just that one class, Kendra knew marketing was the right field for her.
She found her niche within the College of Business when a yet another advisor introduced her to marketing analytics, an emphasis within marketing.
Noting that she inherited her mother’s analytical mind and her father’s outgoing sales-like personality, Kendra says marketing analytics is the perfect major for her skill set and personality.
“Where I once saw that as a struggle — while trying to decide on a major — I now see it as a huge advantage,” Kendra says of her diverse skills. “Analytics is where I belong. I have set myself apart by having the ability to understand the numbers behind things, but also being able to communicate them effectively. This has opened a lot of doors for me.”
She was excited about her academic plan, but stressed as she tried to balance homework and other demands on her time, she says, noting that her Spanish classes were particularly challenging.
“While I daydreamed about studying abroad, I also was completely overwhelmed with my Spanish literature courses,” Kendra says. “I wasn’t learning as fast as I do with other subjects, nor was I confident in my ability to handle this workload as well as my business coursework. I had many conversations with my mother when I was adamant that I couldn’t balance it all. She reassured me that I could do it; however, she finally said that if I was that stressed it wasn’t worth it and that it was okay to acknowledge that it was too much. It wasn’t giving up, it was knowing my limits.”
Since her academic program did not require her to have a minor, she decided to drop her Spanish minor.
However, her plans quickly changed in a way she never expected after meeting with her Spanish professors to discuss dropping the minor.
“They were looking at my transcripts and my planner showing the courses I was planning to take,” Kendra says. “One of them said, ‘Do you realize you’re only three courses away from completing the requirements for a Spanish major?’ I was floored. Between writing papers, studying for exams and stressing about my future, I had not realized how far I’d come. I knew I would regret it if I gave up so I declared Spanish as my second major and I haven’t looked back.”
The conversation with her Spanish professors also was a turning point in how she thinks about the value of having a support system.
Where she once thought asking for help was a weakness, she now sees it as a strength.
“Whether someone has the title of advisor or not, it’s important to find mentors that you look up to, trust, respect and are comfortable with,” Kendra says. “This is especially true at the university. So many people here can and want to help, but they won’t know you need help unless you say so.”
Kendra went from reluctantly asking for help to actively seeking advice from those around her.
“I would write professors asking if I could meet to discuss course possibilities, whether I currently had them as a professor or was in their class two years ago,” Kendra says. “No one ever turned me down. I was nervous at first, but soon realized that I should have used them as resources sooner.”
Her new outlook also helped her make the most of her two international experiences, one a semester studying abroad in Valladolid, Spain, and the other a Winterim immersion in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.
“Both experiences were absolutely life-changing,” Kendra says. “You can put yourself in another person’s shoes, but being invited into someone’s home and embracing their entire culture is a new, lovely experience that I think everyone should undergo.”
In Nicaragua and Spain, she found people willing to share their wisdom with her, just as she had on UW-Eau Claire’s campus.
“I always loved writing in Spanish but hated speaking because I couldn’t think fast enough and be grammatically correct,” Kendra says. “My Nicaraguan mother taught me that if I never spoke, I would never learn and she encouraged me to make mistakes. Her support was so reassuring. When I traveled to Spain the following fall, I experienced the same support from my family there.”
A business organization, Pi Sigma Epsilon, also was an important part of her support system, Kendra says, noting that the people she met through that PSE helped prepare her to successfully transition from student to professional.
In December, Kendra will graduate with degrees in both marketing and Spanish.
She is currently interviewing for multiple positions at three businesses, all of which she describes as “dream jobs.”
“I didn’t know these businesses even existed until this semester, but that’s the beauty of not worrying about making plans and just taking advantage of the opportunities in front of you,” Kendra says. “I’m extremely excited to start this next chapter in my life.”
While she worked hard and took chances to make the most of her college career, Kendra credits her village with making so many experiences possible.
“I had a slew of advisors and mentors, and they’ve all been a significant help guiding me through my undergrad career,” Kendra says. “I have also reached out to and received amazing guidance from so many others. I’m truly thankful to each one of them for their support and advice in the past 4 1/2 years. Some of them have had a bigger impact on me than they know.”
Photo caption: As a Blugold, Kendra Harding learned the value of building a network of people who can offer advice and resources.