Pivoting is an integral part of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute experience, and Kaelyn Edwards made a significant pivot during her Arch “away semester,” when she decided to change her career path.
“I always knew I was passionate about biology, but something was still missing when I was dealing with just the sterile science,” she said. During her Arch “away semester,” Edwards worked at FirstHealth of the Carolinas, an acute-care, not-for-profit hospital serving as the referral center for a 15-county region in the Carolinas. During that summer, she rotated through almost every department with the system, and realized a new passion. “I discovered as a physician, you have the ability to make someone’s day better than the last with a little bit of science and compassion. I love the intersection between both the interpersonal and science side of the medical field.”
The path of making someone’s day better is aligned with her own nonprofit, Jillian’s Jitterbug Foundation, which Edwards founded in 2016. Edwards’ identical twin sister has cerebral palsy, and she learned firsthand that full cost of durable medical equipment required is typically not covered by insurance. Seeing how the joy of independence affected her sister, Edwards was determined to help other families experience something similar. “Jillian’s Jitterbug specifically provides financial assistance to any family who has a disabled child living with mobility challenges,” she explained.
Edwards, who is a biological sciences major with a psychology minor, said she knew Rensselaer would challenge her academically and give her the motivation to be the “best student, and person, she could be.” She explained, “The balance that our students find between academics and extracurriculars creates a positive learning environment that is extremely supportive.” This balance is something she found during her summer semester on campus when, in addition to studying and labs, she was able to really enjoy all the Capital Region has to offer.
During her summer on campus, which Edwards said was her favorite memory of Rensselaer, she went whitewater rafting, went to a hot air balloon festival, picked strawberries, and took day trips around the area. She also said that her advanced cell biology lab that summer was the first time she felt like she was doing real research with her classmates.
After graduation, Edwards will spend a year working for Epigenos Biosciences, a biotechnology company in her home state of North Carolina, with the intention of beginning medical school in 2022. But Edwards knows that pivoting is an important part of life. “Learning how to adapt to unique circumstances, especially ones you can’t plan for, is an invaluable life skill and lesson I will carry with me moving forward.”