MIL-OSI USA: Conquering a Curse: A Student’s UConn Success Story – that Almost Wasn’t

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Source: US State of Connecticut

To look at Prabhas KC ’22 (CLAS) today is to see the very definition of a student leader at UConn.

The senior economics major is a member of the 2021 Leadership Legacy Experience – a program that invites the University’s most exceptional student leaders for an immersive, yearlong leadership enhancement experience.

He’s part of the team at the UConn Consulting Group – a strategy consulting group composed of top students and advised by UConn alumni.

He’s an analyst with Hillside Ventures, UConn’s new student-run venture capital fund, and serves as the student representative on the board of directors of the Mansfield Downtown Partnership, a nonprofit collaboration between the University and the town of Mansfield that oversees the continued development, management, and promotion of Downtown Storrs.

He’s interned for offices across campus, and for the Connecticut insurance giant The Hartford, and was one of the students behind the drive for a UConn-chapter of Camp Kesem – a national organization that works with college students to operate free summer camps for children who have been impacted by a parent’s cancer.

His is a résumé of unquestionable undergraduate success. But three years ago – as a first-year student – KC wasn’t sure he was going to make it at all as a UConn student.

“As I was getting ready for senior year, and thinking about the things that I was a part of, and what my commitments were, I had a moment where I thought about what my school career looked like,” he explains, “and how not so long ago, I was on the complete opposite side of the academic spectrum and really questioning whether I’d even make it to this point in college.”

In his first semester at UConn, KC found himself lost – he was close to failing some of his classes. He was overwhelmed. He didn’t feel like he belonged.

“Every day I’d wake up and be like, is this one step closer to not being able to finish?” he says. “I spent that winter break, my first-ever college winter break, just really sad.”

To KC, in the midst of depression, it felt like it might be history repeating – both his father and his brother had attempted programs of study at UConn, only to withdraw before completion. He felt like the family had a curse when it came to UConn, and that curse had come for him next.

“In the back of my mind, I was asking myself if I should waste my time or just do the inevitable and just drop out of school,” he says. “I had an awful semester. I had bad grades across the board. I didn’t feel like I was myself. The spring felt like a make-or-break semester.”

When he returned for his second semester, KC first went to his academic advisor, Micah Heumann. Anticipating judgment, he instead found nothing but support.

“I was expecting something almost like more proof for me to not be at school,” he says. “But it was the exact opposite. He asked me, what is it that I want to do at school? What are some of my bigger goals, that don’t have to be on my transcript, but what do I want to do? It was such a unique question that I hadn’t been asked before, and I just spouted off some really pipe dream goals that didn’t look possible. One of them was like, I want to get a 4.0, and I knew my transcript was very far from that and my trajectory did not look like that at all. But he really liked that answer, and he told me to use some of the resources that UConn has, make sure that I feel comfortable and confident, and then those things could all be possible.”

KC left that meeting feeling like he had taken the first step in the right direction. His next steps took him to a counselor at Student Health and Wellness.

“I figured it wouldn’t hurt to just try to unpack this stuff, that way I could tell myself, ‘At least I did that before I left school. At least I talked to someone,’” he says.

He went to a drop-in session, and only intended to go that one time– just to get some validation, or an outsider’s opinion, he says.

“I went into that expecting one of two things – one, maybe school isn’t for you, take a break, which was the answer I was looking for,” KC says. “And then the other was, let’s talk about the winter. Let’s talk about what happened in the fall – that was the conversation we actually had. Then I signed up for therapy sessions for the whole semester. And for me to do that, it felt very uncomfortable, because of the stigma. Even telling my friends about it, I was just very worried, because it felt like, as a student, I wasn’t where I needed to be. It felt like I was behind the pack.”

We grew up in a time where overnight success is very romanticized and almost looks like it’s feasible, but I’ve learned the hard way that it is gradual. &#8212 Prabhas KC ’22

But, KC kept going. Therapy was helping him feel more confident, and in his next steps, he found clubs, including the Pan Asian Council, the Sport Business Association, and Active Minds.

“Active Minds is a mental health club on campus,” he says, “and being able to talk to people about not having all the answers, or not having it figured out, really helped me feel a little bit more confident. And then that spring, my grades improved slightly.”

It wasn’t a groundswell, or a sudden rush of overnight success — there weren’t any fireworks, and progress was slow. But he started to build a community around himself at UConn, and things got better.

“I think we grew up in a time where overnight success is very romanticized and almost looks like it’s feasible, but I’ve learned the hard way that it is gradual,” KC says. “But I think that’s what makes it great. It wasn’t until the end of my spring semester where I realized finals week had ended and I was like, ‘oh, I actually made it through!’”

No longer thinking of withdrawing, KC came back with goals for his sophomore year. He applied, and was accepted, into the UConn Consulting Group. He explored different academic options. He continued participating in clubs, and took on internships, and immersed himself in the variety of opportunities that started to present themselves.

Now looking toward graduation in the spring, KC doesn’t always recognize who he was in his first year, but he hasn’t forgotten the struggle.

“A lot of people ask me now, ‘did I always have it figured out?’” he says. “I tell them no. In my freshman year, I had terrible grades. I was close to leaving. I didn’t think I could do it, and somehow I turned it around. When I sense that in someone, or someone tells me they’re struggling, I’m in a place where I can be like, here’s my story, and here’s what I did.”

KC doesn’t know exactly what he wants to do after he graduates, but he knows he wants to help others – his experiences at UConn, however difficult, have helped to shape those aspirations for his future.

“My goal in life is to just scale community,” he says. “That’s what I found my purpose to be, in a way. There are certain issues that are facing people where, similar to me as a freshman, I didn’t feel like I had community, I didn’t feel like I had support. And that type of mentality, that type of thought process, exists everywhere, and I think this last year has highlighted the fact that there are these alarming disparities. If I can help others build a community around themselves, if I can bring the communities that I’m a part of to different people, if I can engage them, then I feel like it’s not just me doing good things, it’s bringing people with me.”

He also wants to help other UConn students who might be struggling, and who also might need to find resources and build community to help them on their journey – they can find and connect with him through LinkedIn. Though it might feel uncomfortable, reaching out to others and joining in on new experiences is an important part of building community and making a big university, like UConn, feel just a little bit smaller.

“I think one of the biggest things that I forced myself to do was to acknowledge that I needed to be uncomfortable, because I think that sometimes, when we start to feel a little bit uncomfortable, when we start to feel like we’re missing community, or when we’re looking at something that’s a little uncomfortable – that’s not within our direct reach – it’s easy to revert to our comfort zone, to stay in your room, and not want to interact, or not join clubs ” he says. “And sometimes that’s not the most healthy thing. We isolate ourselves, and it furthers that problem, but in the moment it feels comfortable.

“So, just acknowledge that it’s going to be a little bit uncomfortable, but that’s where the growth happens.”

Mental health services and resources are available to all UConn students. Visit studenthealth.uconn.edu/mental-health for more information. Appointment-free “Let’s Talk” confidential drop-in sessions are currently offered on Tuesdays and Wednesdays on the Storrs Campus at the Arjona 4th floor waiting room, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. Visit studenthealth.uconn.edu/events for the dates, times, and locations of additional Let’s Talk sessions as well as information about other resources available to students. Mental health resources are also available at the Hartford, Stamford, Waterbury, and Avery Point campuses.

To learn more about the more than 700 organizations and clubs that are active at UConn, or to find ways to get involved and begin building your own UConn community, visit studentactivities.uconn.edu.

MIL OSI USA News