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Leadership activities help one student prepare for a career helping children in hospitals

Nicole Wells is developing leadership skills and learning strategies to help others with help from opportunities in the College of Health and Human Development and at Penn State.

Nicole is a Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management student in the Therapeutic Recreation option, and she is also pursuing a minor in Theater. This combination, she says, is helping her refine the skills she feels are necessary to pursue her passion—making a difference in the lives of children. She wants to be a child-life specialist, helping children manage stress when in hospitals and better understand their medical care. Nicole feels a person in this role needs to be “animated, personable, and open. You have to create a positive atmosphere so that the children and their families feel comfortable.” A Schreyer Scholar, Nicole’s honors thesis is looking at the importance of child life specialists in pediatric hospitals.

RPTM classes are giving her knowledge of how recreation can play a role in healing others, and they are also giving her a broadened perspective on what life is like for persons with disabilities. Her favorite RPTM class so far was one in which students spend a day in a wheelchair as an assignment, which is designed to give them a brief look at some of the day-to-day challenges faced by individuals with disabilities. “It was such an interesting experience,” she says. “Tiny bumps in the road felt like huge mountains, and you really couldn’t count on anything but your arms.”

Nicole has cultivated her leadership skills by joining the College of Health and Human Development’s Women’s Leadership Initiative, which helps students develop the core values, attitudes, and competencies that are the foundation of leadership. In WLI, Nicole was paired with a mentor who works in the health care field, whom she communicates with regularly during the year-long program. “It is a great opportunity for young women to learn about leadership in the workplace and develop into a better professional,” she says.

Her leadership skills have also benefitted from several other activities. She is vice president of No Refund Theatre, a student organization that produces free plays for the Penn State community. She is also a residence hall assistant on campus, which gives her a chance to plan activities for students living in her residence hall and act as a sound board for their concerns. Both opportunities put Nicole in front of groups of people, where she can put her skills to the test.

One thing she likes about RPTM is that the major is very small. “I know everyone in my classes,” she says. “Penn State is big, but I found a study group in class. It’s nice to have that source of social support, especially since we’re going into the same field.”

A Schreyer Scholar, Nicole’s honors thesis is looking at the importance of child-life specialists in pediatric hospitals.

Nicole knows that the array of experiences she is getting at Penn State will help her tremendously as she pursues a life of helping children in need.