Alabama Native Finds Second Home at Widener, First Online and Now In Person

Kennedy Shaw never visited campus, knew no one when she began as a freshman, and spent her first year studying remotely due to the pandemic. But thanks to Widener’s robust support system, she found her place.

Kennedy Shaw stands on campus on a blue sky day, with Founders Hall behind her and the Old Main dome visible in the background
Kennedy Shaw
Class of 2024
Bachelor's in Psychology; Pre-Medical
  • College of Arts & Sciences
Career Plan: Physician

The moment Kennedy Shaw ’24 physically stepped foot on Widener’s campus, she was home.
Before that point, she had only seen the campus in photos and videos, even though she was entering her second year as a Widener student. 

A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Kennedy chose Widener without ever touring the university in person. And the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the psychology major, on a pre-medical track, had to spend freshman year at home, attending classes virtually.

But even being 864 miles and a 13-hour car ride away from campus, Kennedy still found her place at Widener, forging strong connections with classmates, professors, and mentors.

Freshman year was a great year. Even though I was not physically on campus, I felt at home. I love it here. I was shocked with how much love I received online and I knew it would be 1,000 times better in person. — Kennedy Shaw ’24 

Kennedy has not been disappointed. When she arrived on campus sophomore year, to a place that was, in many ways, new and unfamiliar, she found a welcoming and supportive community eager to help with the transition.

“I’m not a freshman but I feel like a freshman even though I’ve had instruction for a year. I’m getting to know the place and I feel new,” said Kennedy. “Now I get to meet these people in real life, to see them in the same space as me. It’s like ‘oh my gosh, you’re a real person.’”

Seeking Adventure

Kennedy had never heard of Widener before starting the college search process. But she entered some criteria into a website that matches students with possible schools, and Widener was one. She began to read more about the university and was intrigued. Plus, she has an adventurous spirit and was drawn to the idea of going away for college. “I always look for new things and places. And I didn’t want to go to a school where I’m from.”

Community of Support

Transitioning to college under normal circumstances is not easy, and Kennedy faced an even greater challenge. But she found support from all corners of the university. Many of her freshman classes were discussion-based so “I felt like I was connected to people,” and her professors were always available to chat and answer questions.

And, like all first-year students, Kennedy was assigned to a Personal Success Team, which offers individualized support and connections for those students who are new to Widener. 

Beyond this team, Kennedy also found support from Nicole Rayfield, former assistant dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, who was always quick to answer phone calls and emails and provide help. “She has been so helpful, even with the smallest of things. Being a dean and being so available, she made me feel welcome.”

From Mentee to Mentor

As an incoming freshman, Kennedy joined the PRIDE Mentoring Program and was partnered with a student mentor, a junior in her same major. “We had very similar interests and now we’re really, really close friends. They did a great job matching us. The program allowed me to meet people and build friendships so I wouldn’t feel as alone. I felt part of the campus.” 

Kennedy had such a great experience in the program that she now wants to pay it forward and serve as a mentor to the next class of students.

Career Plan: Physician

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