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Emory College first-year student wins national scholarship for mental health advocacy
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Emory College first-year student Kira Young has applied her longterm interest in mental health to initiatives and advocacy for her peers. She recently won a $10,000 scholarship for her work.

— Emory Photo Video

The middle school classmates who nicknamed Emory College first-year student Kira Young “the therapist” were on to something.

Curious about how books and TV portrayed mental illness, Young had been researching the topic for years and discussing what she found with friends. When a student died by suicide during Young's first year of high school, Young responded by launching several initiatives — including The Power of Okay website, dedicated to resources and advice — to further educate herself and others.

That commitment to understanding mental health and pushing for more awareness recently led her to be selected as the national winner of the 2022 Anthony A. Martino Memorial Scholarship. The $10,000 award, named for the franchisor of the Goddard Schools, recognizes young leaders whose actions demonstrate the best of their early education in Goddard’s kindergarten and pre-K programs.

“As a whole, I think Goddard showed me how to explore new things and advocate for what I believed in,” says Young, a 2010 kindergarten graduate of the Goddard School of Suwanee in suburban Atlanta.

“It has expanded to all parts of my life, to just be curious about the world and how I can best be a part of it.”

Young noticed many of her friends were struggling — and reluctant to talk about it — well before the pandemic. The isolation due to virtual schooling and uncertainty about COVID-19 heightened the problem.

Her answer was to create ways for teens to reach out to one another, and read tips from experts, on her website. Young also began researching the mind-body connection for mental health support. 

Realizing the weekly yoga she did with her mother let her de-stress, she pursued three yoga certifications: in trauma-informed yoga, yoga for anxiety and a general 200-hour teaching certificate. Once she’s more settled into college life, Young wants to offer yoga classes on campus.

One high point for the future psychology major has been the Science of Study first-year seminar with Andrew Kazama, an associate teaching professor and director of undergraduate research for the Department of Psychology.

The course covers the field’s research on the best ways to study and absorb information. It also includes modules on mindfulness and meditation and occasional mental health checks. 

“Professors are maybe a little more open about sharing struggles and willing to be a role model for vulnerability since the pandemic,” Kazama says. “It is very satisfying to do it when teaching somebody like Kira, who is already applying what she’s learning to make a difference.”

Another of Young’s goals is to pursue undergraduate research opportunities and find ways to join existing organizations or begin building the framework to create more mental health support for her fellow undergrads.

“College is tough. It’s a transition period,” Young says. “I’d like to work with anyone who is interested in making mental health resources more accessible for the entire campus so that even if it impacts one person, I can help someone going through something tough.”

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