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Alumni receive letters they wrote to themselves in a psychology course 10 years ago

December 2, 2017, in Latest News

Amber (Clausen) Kilburn 2007 crafted four email responses to Jack Hill before she finally hit send. It meant so much to her that the professor and chair of psychology had sent that letter – a letter from her younger self.

“There’s so much I want to share with him, but I don’t know how to share it,” she said. “I loved his classes. I loved getting the letter, and I want to make sure I share that. But it’s hard to tell someone how much of an impact they’ve had on your life in just an email.”

Ten years ago, Hill created an assignment for seniors in his Psychology Capstone course to write a letter to themselves 10 years in the future. They could write about anything they wanted, as long as they also imagined how they would be using psychology in their lives.

This spring, he tracked down the students and sent them their letters. But first he re-read their letters, looked up student photos in old Herd Books and did some reminiscing.

“When I looked at their pictures, I started remembering things that we’d talked about, things that had happened, when we’d gone on departmental trips to conferences,” he said. “The memories started coming back, which I really, really liked.”

Jaclyn (Buttermore) Braa 2007 had written in her letter that she would be an industrial-organizational psychologist living on the coast. Now she is a school psychologist who lives in Sioux Falls, S.D.

“It’s a lot different and I’m a lot happier, I think, now than I probably would have been if it had gone the way I thought,” she said.

Looking back, Braa remembers Hill being unsure if industrial-organizational psychology was right for her.

“When I asked for a letter of recommendation, Jack asked me, ‘Are you sure this is really what you want to do?’” she said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, yeah. Yep.’ And it wasn’t what I wanted to do. So a few years ago, I decided it was worth it for me to go back to graduate school and ended up going into school psychology.”

James Schmidt 2007 imagined that he would be working for Child Protective Services making sure children are safe in their homes. Now he works closely with Child Protective Services as a licensed mental health counselor in Omaha, Neb.

“I do think that what I do now is probably a better fit because I get to help the kids heal who were in those unsafe situations,” he said.

When Schmidt went to graduate school, he found over half the program to be review from Hill’s counseling classes, even using the same textbook.

“I did not realize how much academically he did for me until I went for my master’s,” he said.

Cat Boyle 2017 just recently wrote her letter to herself 10 years in the future. She knew she was going to graduate school to become a licensed professional clinical counselor, so she devoted most of her letter to remembering her Morningside College experience.

"I didn’t get a good enough ACT score to get into Morningside and was put into the Student Success group, but I’m graduating college with a 3.7 GPA and got on the Dean’s List multiple times,” she wrote in her letter. “If future me is reading this and needs any encouragement to keep trying to grow, this is your encouragement letter.”

In Kilburn’s letter from her younger self, she thought she would become a lawyer.

“My children are much more important to me than I ever, ever realized they would be,” she said. “After I graduated, we focused on my husband’s career, so I couldn’t go to law school right away. And then we started a family, and I don’t have any regrets about that.”

Kilburn said she wanted to be a lawyer for the prestige more than anything else. These days she is happy to be making a difference as coordinator of the Gear Up program that helps students in the Sioux City Community Schools get ready for post-secondary education. But the letter did help her realize it’s about time to go to graduate school.

Hill knows life rarely turns out exactly as planned. He reminded his former students of that in a cover letter. He gave updates on psychology professors and asked for updates from the students as well.

“I always love hearing from alumni to see what they’re doing, regardless of whether they’re involved in psychology or how things have turned out,” he said.