When reflecting on her educational journey, Kani Caldwell would confirm that it was far from simple. Many moments of doubt and discouragement caused her to question her abilities and her purpose. Like many students, college was a “wake up call.” She was ready to answer, but that answer was gradual in forming.
Caldwell came to Michigan State in 2012 after graduating from Lansing’s Everett high school. As a Lansing Promise scholarship recipient, she was eager to make MSU’s campus her home. In an effort to prepare for the academic rigors of college life, she participated in a summer transition program called M.A.G.I.C. Consumed by the many options at MSU, she was prepared to make the most of the variety of opportunities.
Her natural wit and lively personality made meeting new friends and getting involved easy. For three years, Caldwell conducted research aiding in advancements towards breast cancer prevention in the College of Osteopathic Medicine and the College of Nursing. She participated in the College of Social Science’s Study Away program in Washington, DC. She joined various student organizations and found meaningful work in her time as an Intercultural Aide.
“I thought I wanted to do nursing, but that was a lie,” Caldwell says with a laugh. She lacked interest in her studies and had the growing feeling that the career path she had chosen wasn’t right for her. “It came time to get into the College of Nursing, and I wasn’t doing too well.” She realized it wasn’t actually the medical aspect of nursing that interested her. Her real passion was understanding people and learning how to improve their lives.
Still, she didn’t know how to proceed--only that she must make a change. “I thought I wanted to do education, but I didn’t want to start all over.” With the help of MSU’s advising staff, Caldwell changed her major to Interdisciplinary Studies in the College of Social Science. The decision felt right. But Caldwell’s career trajectory would keep evolving.
“I really found my passion when I was taking a lot of my sociology and anthropology classes,” she says. “I was studying people, how we interact with one another, how we coexist. That’s something I really enjoyed, so I thought, ‘Maybe I want to be a public servant. Maybe I want to do some nonprofit work. So, I did the Study Away program in D.C. But politics wasn’t something I wanted to do either.”
Caldwell was frustrated. “A lot of it was me walking very blindly,” says Caldwell. “It made me question a lot. As a first-generation student, I wondered if I was wasting my time, wasting my money, wondering why I was here. I didn’t know, because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do.” But she had discovered the emotional core of the work she would ultimately embrace--helping others--so she was determined to keep exploring.
When she graduated from MSU, she revisited her interest in education, finding work as a substitute teacher. Working with students was the environment her heart had always craved. This resurfaced the gratification she felt working as an Intercultural Aide where she helped students navigate through the college experience while promoting inclusion and student success.
As she worked in the school system, Caldwell was offered an opportunity to work at Lansing Community College (LCC) department of K-12 Operations—it sounded promising. “I became what’s called post-secondary support staff,” says Caldwell. “So I was working with high school students, helping them transition from high school to college.” They were taking dual enrollment courses, direct credit courses which she would help plan and organize. “I realized then I needed a job where I can work with students directly, one-on-one, all the time. I loved it. That’s when I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
While at LCC, Caldwell transitioned to a new role where she bolstered the registration and admissions experience she had accumulated with financial aid training—giving her the trifecta of student advising skills. By this time, Caldwell was sure she wanted to pursue a career in higher education.
When MSU called her for an interview in the Admissions Office, she was overjoyed. To her surprise, she recognized a familiar face: the same admissions counselor who had admitted Caldwell to MSU was on the interview committee. There was something pleasingly full-circle about the experience.
In August of 2019, Caldwell began work at Michigan State as an admissions officer. She couldn’t be more satisfied doing recruitment work for prospective freshmen; she is excited about the prospect of working with transfer students as well. Lessons from Caldwell’s own experience inform her work as a guide through the admission process at Michigan State.
Caldwell’s winding road to finding a meaningful career isn’t unusual. While some students overcome incredible odds or pursue their childhood dreams, the vast majority have struggles similar to Caldwell’s. Years of uncertainty, major changes, part-time work, and internships that don’t quite click aren’t anomalies. Since Caldwell has seen this firsthand, she hopes sharing her story will inspire students who are having a dark night of the soul. During her long journey away and back to MSU’s Admissions Office, she has learned some things she hopes will help light the way.