May 20, 2010

Rachel Kittrell entered SMU in fall 2008 and discovered a passion for the Land of Enchantment while exploring SMU-in-Taos with her camera.


Rachell Kittrell

“I love that campus and the way the light hits things in New Mexico,” says the Dallas sophomore, who attended SMU’s annual retreat for President’s Scholars in Taos. “We took a beautiful hike up a mountain near campus, and a few of us decided we had to try again at 5 the next morning to get a photo of the sunrise. Unfortunately it was covered by clouds.”

Then Kittrell, a recipient of the Gregg and Molly Engles President’s Scholar award, took an Introduction to Psychology course during her second term that changed her plans for the future.

“It hit me that this is the most fascinating thing I’ve ever studied,” she says. “I couldn’t stop telling my friends everything I had learned about brain structure and neuropsychology and the different fields that use psychology. The class came so naturally to me that I didn’t feel like I was even studying.”

She has since taken courses in developmental psychology and research methods. She is considering a minor in art or French, if her class schedule allows. “My main goal is to stay organized and focused on psychology,” says Kittrell, who began working for course credit during the spring term in the Psychology Department’s research program on stress, anxiety and chronic disease. She assists graduate students with administrative tasks and experiments.

“I’m getting to see an actual lab instead of just hearing about one in class, which has given me a firsthand view of what psychological research is like,” says Kittrell, who also works part time at a dry cleaning business.

“Rachel’s creativity and analytical skills will serve her well in any field,” says Associate Professor of Photography Debora Hunter, who taught Kittrell courses on beginning and documentary photography. “Scholarship students like Rachel raise the whole level of discourse in class.”

Kittrell says her scholarship has provided her with a built-in network. “Being part of the President’s Scholar community is like being part of a family,” she says. “I’ve bonded with other scholars in my residence hall and at get-togethers, and we support each other’s projects.”

Several President’s Scholars and other SMU students have supported a cause that is close to Kittrell’s heart: ovarian cancer awareness. Doctors caught her mother’s cancer just in time four years ago, she says, and the disease is now in remission.

At the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition’s Walk to Break the Silence in Grapevine, Texas, in September, Kittrell led a 5K team in honor of her mother’s friend, who died from ovarian cancer. “Relatives and friends, SMU students, my mom – we all got together for different reasons to support the same cause,” says Kittrell, who plans to lead a team again this fall. “At the end of the walk, the survivors gather to listen to a singer perform ‘Lean on Me.’ That’s what it’s all about.”

Kittrell hopes to spend a semester at SMU-in-Taos or in an SMU Abroad program, which would be financed by her scholarship. She also is considering graduate school at The Guildhall at SMU, where she could apply her psychology skills to the video game field of “level design,” which focuses on game structure and storytelling.

“My scholarship has given me opportunities that I haven’t had the chance to explore fully yet. I’m looking forward to exploring everything.”
– Sarah Hanan

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