(Feature photo credit to Shayla Mai)
Rising Newman senior Kelly Mai is a 2021 recipient of the KICF-Maud Wyatt Recognition Scholarship.
The Kansas Independent College Foundation (KICF) awards up to 20 individual scholarships annually, one for a student at each foundation member institution. The recipients must be full-time degree-seeking students on the cusp of graduation who have maintained a grade point average of 3.5 or above. Students must also demonstrate excellence in academics, character and integrity, and show a commitment to the value of a private college education in Kansas.
For the first time in the scholarship fund’s history, all 20 winners are women, and almost all are majoring in a different discipline.
“The diversity of majors reflects the many ways private college students find purpose and success in the world,” said KICF President Matthew Lindsey. KICF is confident that the scholarships will help recipients complete their degrees, which will prepare them for a lifetime of professional and personal fulfillment.
Making a mark
Mai is a first-generation college student who is majoring in psychology and criminal justice with a minor in art. She was nominated for the KICF-Maud Wyatt Recognition Scholarship by Newman President Kathleen S. Jagger, Ph.D.
“Kelly is a humble leader on our campus and at home,” Jagger wrote. “As the oldest child in her family, Kelly serves as an inspiration for her younger siblings. Even though she is a busy full-time college student, Kelly also spends much time caring for her family members.”
When Mai received the congratulations email from KICF, she thought it was spam.
“I was actually going through a really dark time when I received the email,” Mai said. “I just wasn’t able to fully process it, and didn’t even fully acknowledge it until one of the faculty members came up to me and congratulated me.”
“Looking back, I am so humbled,” she said. “I kept thinking, ‘I don’t deserve this.’ Coming from a low-income family, it just made me think how lucky and grateful I am just to be here. I’ve come so far.”
Before and after Newman
For seven years, Mai and her family lived in New Orleans. Mai remembers struggling during her time as a young student in public school, and noted that the education system in Louisiana was much different than the one she’d come to appreciate in Wichita.
Mai’s parents made several sacrifices to ensure that she and her younger siblings could attend a Catholic elementary school in Wichita, Mai said. Mai gradually noticed a positive shift in her performance as a student. She soon understood concepts more easily, blossomed a love for learning and felt that she was in a safe place where she could live out her faith.
“It’s weird to take it in that I’m here now, at a Catholic university,” Mai said. “I’m so grateful. I know for sure that I wouldn’t have done this without my family, my friends, and especially God. I’ve gotten to be more independent, I’ve tried to figure out myself more and have found coping mechanisms for struggles with my mental health.”
Jumping out of her comfort zone has been one of Mai’s most joyful experiences at Newman.
Mai is an active member of the Campus Activities Board, the Multicultural Leadership Organization, and the Asian Student Association. She works as a student graphic designer for the University Relations department and has even taken the lead on several design projects including a campus-wide laptop sticker initiative for students and alumni. Mai is also a regular attendee of Campus Ministry events, including Newman University service trips and projects.
“All of my experiences at Newman have been new and so transformative,” Mai said. “I’ve gotten to embrace myself as a first-generation college student, and I’ve gotten to learn more about myself as a Vietnamese-American.”
Mai even auditioned for the theater production, “Dante’s Inferno.”
“I didn’t know what I was signing myself up for, but it was so rewarding. I learned how to be more confident in myself and to really accept who I am.”
A hopeful future
Faith and service each play major roles in Mai’s life. After she graduates, Mai plans to answer her call of helping others through mission work.
“Helping people is just in my blood,” she said. “There are people out there who are struggling, almost the same as I am, but maybe worse. And I just want to help them get back out there and face the world, but in a better light.”
Mai says that her faith in God has brought her farther than she thought possible. She believes that the best way for anyone to encounter God, “or any type of love,” is through people.
“That’s what keeps you going,” Mai said. “Purpose in life doesn’t always have to be like, ‘I want to go here,’ or ‘I want to do this or that.’ The purpose in life is just to love. Love in itself is spectacular, and it’s always there.”
Mai is grateful to Emily Simon, assistant director of Campus Ministry, and Newman Chaplain Father Adam Grelinger both for their unending support, and for always holding her accountable when it comes to attending Mass and adoration.
“Joseph Shepard, Joshua Woods and Debora Jensen of student life were also there for me whenever I needed a shoulder to cry on, and helped me grow to be a better leader,” she added.
She also gives credit to her advisors, Professor of Psychology Greg Smith and Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Kristi Barton Edwards, for guiding her as a student and individual.
“They’ve helped me a lot with being able to see the other side of my situation, being able to find purpose in life and reminding me that I am capable of doing better things,” Mai said.
“I’ve never had a negative experience with any of my professors. I’m just very lucky and extremely grateful.”