Sara Danielle Nelson, a BYU–Hawaii alumna from Utah who studied psychology, said learning to be her authentic self, serving others and getting out of her comfort zone are all valuable traits she developed at BYUH.
She said after her mission to Birmingham, England, in 2017, she felt inspired to explore different education options but did not know where to look.
Before her mission, she said her family took a surprise trip to Oahu and visited the Polynesian Cultural Center while she was attending Utah State University. Their guide for the boat tour was a BYUH student, which sparked her interest in the University.
“My mom asked the worker if he was a student and he said yes. As soon as he said that, it all clicked. A voice in my head said, ‘This is where you belong,’” she explained. After touring the PCC and looking around the island, she said, “It felt like home.”
A few months after she graduated, Nelson said she moved to Laie to focus on herself and her passions. She said she is discovering more of her creativity while working on film projects in a less structured environment than what college offered.
Impact of BYUH
Nelson said her days at BYUH were spent learning, making friends, joining school activities and immersing herself in the culture.
She said school dances were some of her favorite events at BYUH. “I loved seeing all the people from all these different places having fun. It felt so freeing and silly. Even when you're stressed, just go and don’t even think about anything.”
The staff and educators were beyond helpful, said Nelson. She said one teacher who helped her throughout her academic career was David Whippy, a professor in the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts. She said he was also a member of her ward’s bishopric.
Through his help and guidance, Nelson said she was able to succeed. “All the peacebuilding professors were always really fun and knowledgeable. It’s so hard to not just gush about each one of them.”
Nelson said she recommends students utilize free resources on campus, such as the counseling center and disability services, because they helped her get through her difficult experiences by showing her compassion and kindness. She explained, “Having an adult who cares about you who doesn't have the obligation to is such a game changer for me.”
Going forth to serve
Immediately after graduation, Nelson said she worked at New Haven, a residential treatment center and boarding school in Utah for teenage girls. She said she worked with 13 to 18-year-old girls who were dealing with various difficulties such as eating disorders, trauma and addiction.
While working there, she said she experienced different challenges but showed the girls how to use trials to love themselves more. “I wanted to be like a big sister for those girls,” she explained.
Nelson said her work at New Haven was a true representation of using what she learned at BYUH to serve others. One of her goals is to go back to New Haven and help them implement more structured protocols and procedures to help improve the lives of the patients, especially for youth with eating disorders.
“I would also like to ensuring proper staffing would be available before accepting new students into the programs,” she added.
Nelson said one of her biggest takeaways from working at New Haven was the importance of being a shoulder to lean on. “Even when you're struggling to gain understanding, it’s important to build people up. That’s what helped me while working at [New Haven].”
A genuine friend and student
Sara Sharp, a senior from Washington majoring in political science, and one of Nelson’s close friends, said Nelson is loyal, compassionate and hardworking. “She thinks about others and how she can help them. If she can't do much, she is always willing to simply lend an ear. Her dependability makes her such a great friend.”
Another friend of Nelson’s, Jordann Ah Nee Waters, a junior from Oahu majoring in political science, said Nelson is full of life and is “a very kind and genuine person. … She is also very intelligent in terms of book smarts and with others around her. She knows how to empathize with people.”
Advice for all students
Nelson encouraged students to get the most out of their BYUH experience by going to events, meeting new people and joining clubs that may be out of their comfort zone. “Join different cultural clubs. There's so many incredible people and once you [join], you see people are incredible from all around the world.”
Nelson advised students to always strive to be who they want to be and to show their authentic selves. She said it was hard for her to make meaningful friendships at first, but after being herself and being around others who were themselves, she found her group of good friends.
Ultimately, she said being her authentic self taught her more about who she is and who she wants to be.