Student Profile: Kelly Tessier

When something you’ve been doing for as long as you can remember is suddenly taken away, the fallout can be devastating.

When a severe knee injury derailed a promising dance career in her junior year of high school, Kelly Tessier internalized the disappointment and turned the setback into a positive.

“I discovered my identity,” says the Harrisburg University first-year student. “I spent a whole year focusing on myself . . . my dreams and goals.”

For someone who had been dancing since the age of 3, immersing herself in crafting her art and creativity, the sudden shift was life changing.

“Dancing was a big part of my identity. I had never thought about my future or college,” says Kelly.

But since entering Harrisburg University in the fall of 2013, Kelly, a native of Quebec, Canada, has successfully made the transition from dancer to full-time student, clearly focused on school.

And the earth.

An environmental science major still exploring career options, Kelly has “always been interested in helping the earth.” Kelly became passionate about the subject after seeing “An Inconvenient Truth,” the 2006 documentary about former Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to raise the visibility of global warming.

“The movie introduced me to global climate change,” Kelly says. “This really attracted me to this type of science.” What attracted Kelly to the university, though, was more meat and potatoes than the multidisciplines of her major.

“My brother (Steven) is a sophomore here, so I had visited a lot,” Kelly explains. “I like the fact that it’s a smaller university, and the teacher-student ratio is good.”

There was an adjustment period, though. Kelly admits to initially being scared to come to the university, but “my mom was very supportive. She told me it’s going to be fine.”

Turns out Mom was spot on. Kelly also received an emotional assist from the Fellowship Program, a mentor-support initiative aimed at helping first-year students at Harrisburg University acclimate to college life, from living in a dorm to interacting with professors.

This has not only helped Kelly bond with other freshmen but also taught her critical team-building skills. She and other program participants are working together on a year-long project that involves collecting water samples from the area and testing them for pollution.

“The program has really helped me. I stayed in a dorm with other freshmen, and we bonded. It’s easier to meet new people,” says Kelly. “It made me feel very comfortable and made the transition easier.”

The program also helped financially, paying for Kelly’s first year at Harrisburg University and providing an award of $8,000 per year for the next three years.

While this stability has given Kelly peace of mind, the variety of courses she’s taking has validated Kelly’s choice of Harrisburg University. “I had considered Wilkes University and McGill University (in Montreal),” Kelly says. “But I liked the course offering at HU. It’s different than state schools. The first-year courses fit right into my likes, and they apply toward my major.”

Earlier this year, Kelly took a “cornerstone class” in which students learn about the college culture and the importance of goal-setting. “It teaches leadership skills and helps you define short- and long-term goals.”

As she ticks off each goal she’s achieved, Kelly is quick to credit her professors. Christine Altieri, Kelly’s Academic Writing and Critical Thinking professor, “takes the time to sit down with me and teach me the points that make my assignments even better,” says Kelly.

Dr. Vicki Villone “challenges and motivates me,” Kelly says. “She is always available to meet if I have a question or a problem. The accessibility is real important.”

The same holds true with her family, whom Kelly says “has been great.” Having this support system just 45 minutes from campus is a great benefit for the freshman. However, some problems need a mother’s touch. “I exchange texts with my mom every day. If I’m discouraged about a class, Mom always knows what to say,” says Kelly.

Kelly certainly knows what she would say to potential future Harrisburg University students: “I love this school. You sit in a class with 20 to 25 students, not 200,” she says. “The professors know you by name; you’re not a number. “You feel wanted here . . . you get to be more of your own person.”