Turning Pain into Purpose: Kaelyn Edwards, ’24 Awarded SBS Tenacity Prize

May 3, 2024
Woman with long hair standing outside in a blue graduation gown

Kaelyn Edwards, who is graduating with a major in Care, Health & Society, is the recipient of the SBS Tenacity Award for spring 2024. This award recognizes a graduating senior in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences who has persevered in the face of significant adversity to earn his or her university degree. 

Kaelyn grew up in a single-parent home, raised by her father whom she describes as having been her ‘best friend.’ Just after graduating high school, Kaelyn was blindsided by a devastating personal tragedy. Shortly after beginning her first semester of college, her father died by suicide. She left school and returned to her hometown, where she navigated crushing loneliness and a loss of purpose as she struggled to maintain her own mental health. Kaelyn was institutionalized and spent many months learning to reclaim herself and her life. 

Kaelyn’s tenacity compelled her to return to school — made more challenging due to COVID-19 and the necessity of learning solely online. In her commitment to be a part of “something larger than herself,” she held a leadership role with Phi Theta Kappa, where she helped organize health-equity volunteer projects in Sierra Vista. Later, Kaelyn was awarded an All-Arizona Academic Team Award from the Arizona Board of Regents and transferred to the University of Arizona. 

As a direct result of the care she received from a psychiatric nurse while in recovery, Kaelyn decided she wanted to become a nurse and chose Care, Health, and Society as her path to reach that goal.

Carrie Langley, director of Care, Health & Society, wrote in Kaelyn’s nomination letter, "I've had the privilege of collaborating with Kaelyn throughout her tenure as a CHS major in both core and elective courses. Kaelyn's work consistently offered insightful scholarly work that sought to examine the root causes of social drivers of health while enhancing connections with her peers. Kaelyn has been an excellent student enhancing the educational experience herself and her peers."

In the spring 2024 semester, Kaelyn was offered a Poverty Policy Research Fellowship, where she worked on a small independent study project that conducts research in collaboration with Pima County’s Prosperity Initiative. Brian Mayer, director of the School of Sociology, calls Kaelyn’s work “excellent,” as it centered on completing a policy analysis and recommendation for ways to increase family planning resources for vulnerable populations.

Kaelyn credits her difficult journey over the last six years for her tenacity and says her desire to go into nursing is driven by wanting “to no longer be a patient but to be the helper.”

Her lived experience and academic preparation will serve her well in her next endeavor, as she is eagerly pursuing her dream of attending nursing school and is actively exploring various programs to find the best fit.

Of Kaelyn’s resilience and empathy, Mayer wrote, “I am in awe of how Ms. Edwards not only overcame her challenges through her tenacity but is now utilizing that tenacity to help and care for others facing their own struggles.”

She has learned to approach difficulty with calm and patience. 

"Even in the stormiest seas of life, take it one step at a time,” Kaelyn said. “Each step forward, no matter how small, guides you through today's challenges, ushering in tomorrow's hope."