Valedictorian Kemp thankful she chose Detroit Mercy

May 09, 2018
Christen Kemp poses for a photo on top of the University of Detroit Mercy sign.

Christen Kemp wasn’t quite sure what she was looking for in a college when she visited University of Detroit Mercy as a senior in high school. Still, her father elected to put down a deposit, encouraging her to study nursing.

But as she nears graduation, where she will speak as the Class of 2018’s valedictorian on May 12, she knows Detroit Mercy was everything she could have ever wanted in a university and offered her opportunities she wouldn’t have had anywhere else.

“It definitely has the feel and individualization that I was looking for,” Kemp said. “I love the small class sizes and I love the opportunities Detroit Mercy provides. The only way I could be in involved in so many things was at this type of university. I just fell in love with the campus and the people there.”

During her time at Detroit Mercy, Kemp was president of the Student Nursing Association (SNA), treasurer and executive board member of Alpha Sigma Nu (a Jesuit honor society), a fundraising committee member of the Lambda Zeta chapter of Sigma Theta Tau, lead student coordinator of STEM-DT (a Ford Community Corps Project), student leader of Step-Up: Be a Leader at Holbrook Elementary, a leadership team member of Detroit Prevention and Awareness in the Community and a Detroit Mercy orientation leader. And those were just her leadership positions.

“Thankfully there are a lot of faculty and staff that have provided those opportunities,” Kemp said. “They made me believe I was a good person to fill different roles and encouraged me. They believed in things I wanted to do. There was a lot of collaboration and relationship building between faculty and students that you don’t get the chance to do at larger universities.”

Getting involved

Christen Kemp poses for a photo.Kemp has come a long way from her freshman year, when she admits she wasn’t really herself and wasn’t involved very much on campus. These days, she has to be a master organizer to meet all the demands on her time.

“My time and commitment to the University have really evolved,” Kemp said. “I have class two days a week, but I’m here four or five days a week because I have so many extra commitments. But I love doing them.”

Kemp began working with the Student Nursing Association as the American Red Cross blood drive coordinator, a position she held for two years. She became president this past year and made it her goal to involve the SNA in more philanthropic events.
SNA participated in Safety Street, a trick-or-treating event on campus for neighborhood children, sold cookies and cider to raise money for Detroit Rescue Mission and in a collaboration with Alpha Sigma Nu held a mug drive to benefit several area shelters. But the biggest philanthropic event of the winter semester was Eggstravaganza.

“We passed out eggs in the library, and the goal was to treat the eggs kind of like piggy banks, people would fill the eggs with their loose change and return them to us,” Kemp said. “All the money went to Sanctum House, which is a program for survivors and victims of human trafficking. It’s in an undisclosed location in Oakland County. It’s a two-year program, as opposed to 30, 60 or 90 days, because that’s not enough time to recover from being in a trafficking environment. Because they are new, we wanted to help them. Now they’re fostering a partnership with McAuley School of Nursing because a lot of our faculty still practice. So the School of Nursing is donating its services and assessment abilities for the victims.”

Kemp is well known at the Student Life Office and was encouraged by staff members to apply for valedictorian. Associate Dean of Students Dorothy Stewart said Kemp being named valedictorian is well-deserved.

“I never worry when Christen is working on a Student Life Project because I know that she is committed 100 percent and will provide her best effort,” Stewart said. “She has been someone that her peers view as a resource. Her thoughts and wisdom are widely acknowledged and respected. Christen is wise beyond her years. It is a pleasure to know her and you feel that she is always looking out for your best interests.”

Kemp also makes time for activities outside of Detroit Mercy, including dancing at her hometown studio.

“I do tap and jazz,” Kemp said. “We’re doing a student showcase of hip hop with all the older girls. We dance with high schoolers, but some of the girls in the class are college graduates. I love it. Most of the (Madison Heights) Lamphere High School dance team alumni still dance at the studio, so it’s a great chance to see the girls I used to dance with. I enjoy doing it every week. It’s nice that it’s not competitive, it’s just a performance studio. We host our recitals and that’s it.”

Leading by example

Christen Kemp and Hannah Barnes pose near their poster.In addition to her involvement in Student Life at Detroit Mercy, Kemp was also heavily involved with the Emerging Leaders Program and minored in Leadership. She earned the Emerging Leaders Medallion (its highest honor) and was awarded the John Daniels Student Servant Leader of the Year Award by the Institute of Leadership and Service, a faculty-nominated award.

“Any time anyone asks Christen to do something, no matter how busy she is, she always says ‘sure’ with a smile on her face,” Assistant Professor of Nursing Sonya Kowalski said. “Christen is very organized and humble, and she never complains about all of the work she does. The only way you actually find out how much she is doing is when you mention something and others will, one-by-one, pipe up with something else she is doing. I am certain we don't know everything she does.”

To minor in Leadership, Kemp had to be involved in a service project, so she was a student leader at Holbrook Elementary in Hamtramck as part of the Step Up: Be a Leader program.

“It was really fun, the students were always super excited when we would come,” Kemp said. “We were their friends from Detroit Mercy. We just did healthy behavior activities with them. They are very spunky kids, they’re super inquisitive and they want to know everything.”

As an orientation leader, Kemp made sure to let incoming students know about all the service opportunities Detroit Mercy offers and the benefits that come from giving back.

“I definitely really appreciate the service aspect of Detroit Mercy,” Kemp said. “The past two years, we’ve been doing service in the Fitzgerald neighborhood with the freshmen. We have been clearing out alleys and clearing out debris in front of houses. It’s definitely what the Institute of Leadership and Service model preaches: servant leadership, where you think you’re serving the other people, but you get way more in return. For the Fitzgerald project, we were clearing out alleys and residents came to us with a whole case of water because it was August and we were working. We graciously accepted it. It really hit me because they appreciated what we were doing and wanted to give the water to us.”

As part of the Ford Community Corps Project, Kemp and fellow nursing student Hannah Barnes organized a STEM-DT (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics Development Today) event at the Michigan Science Center.

“Our pediatric clinical students came to the Science Center and interacted with children,” Kemp said. “My co-leader, Hannah, and I created an entire curriculum for our pediatric students. They rotated through stations and did activities with the children. Then there was a period of reflection and questions based on the development they saw.”

Barnes enjoyed working with Kemp and credits her for helping making the event a huge success.

“When Christen does a project, she devotes her time fully and is truly passionate about the work,” Barnes said. “Christen was there for anything I needed, and contributed great ideas. She carved out a lot of time for working with me and the students at the science center. It was a major success.”

School comes first

Christen Kemp poses for a photo while holding the Nursing banner.Kemp devoted a lot of time to extracurricular activities but never let that get in the way of her academic studies.

She was awarded the Catherine McAuley Award by the McAuley School of Nursing (a faculty-nominated award), collaborated with the School of Engineering & Science on a design project for veterans and wrote an academic article with Kowalski.

“Christen and I started our collaboration for the article last summer,” Kowalski said. “I asked her if she would be interested in working on a publication before she graduates and she said ‘sure.’ We met over the summer and devised a schedule for the writing and she chose the section she wanted to work on.

“Ever the multitasking guru, she decided to use the experience as an independent study for her program. Christen met all of her targets for completing her portion of the writing and also participated in working on the publishing edits. Christen is a talented researcher and writer, and I am positive she will make important contributions to the nursing profession. Christen is an outstanding representative for the McAuley School of Nursing and University of Detroit Mercy.”

Kemp worked at the main campus of Henry Ford Health System as part of her nursing studies and it reinforced what she wants to do after graduation.

“The population that comes is usually an underserved population,” Kemp said. “I want to continue to work there and serve that population because I get way more out of it than I can could ever give them. It’s just so rewarding, and you can learn so much about yourself from them.”

Kemp hopes to return to Detroit Mercy for graduate school once she has gained more experience as a nurse.

“I do plan to come back for graduate school and become a nurse practitioner,” Kemp said. “If I ever stepped away from bedside care and did administration, I think I would come back to the academic portion and teach or work administratively at a nursing school. I definitely love education. And education is a huge part of what we do with patients, like if someone is newly diagnosed with diabetes, we can’t just send them home. The nurse is bedside with you and does all the education. I love the education component.”

— By Dave Pemberton. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.