Kyla Ford’s academic journey started pretty hastily. At just 17 years old, she had moved out of her mother’s house, was just diagnosed with chronic regional pain syndrome and was recovering from surgery. She knew she wanted to go to school, so she enrolled in Kirkwood Community College and started studying human services.
“My brain was so foggy, I just literally applied to the first school I knew I could get into,” she said. “I don’t even know why I picked human services. Honestly, I think I took a career test and it said clergy or social worker and I was like, ‘OK, I’m not gonna’ be a clergy member, so I could probably do something with social work.’ But I didn’t realize where my trajectory was going.”
Little did she know, she would develop a passion that would lead to even more opportunities. At Kirkwood, her studies not only helped her develop a love of her major, they helped her have personal breakthroughs. Some of her first classes at Kirkwood talked about mental illness — something that’s impacted Ford’s family, and Ford herself.
“I was going through my own mental health problems and when we started to go through that curriculum I realized, ‘Oh, I’m not a bad person,’” she said. “I started to realize that not only can I help those around me, but I can help myself, I can help my family.”
Motivated by her studies at Kirkwood, Ford transferred to UNI and started studying social work and became actively involved on campus. She took on leadership roles with Active Minds, Ethnic Student Promoters, the Student Social Work Association, UNI Mental Health Council and UNI’s NAACP chapter. This May, she was one of the commencement speakers at the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences graduation.
She also became involved with the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program, which allowed her to do original research, and took on an internship with the Waterloo Community School District, where she leads a conflict resolution skills group for third graders.
“My favorite thing is interacting with kids and giving them an avenue to tell someone their story,” said Ford. “Having that safe space, that’s just so important. And recreating that any way I can in the future is something that I want to do.”
For Ford, creating these safe spaces plays a key role in preventing violence, and violence prevention is at the heart of all of her work. The conflict resolution group aims to prevent interpersonal issues from escalating into violence, and her research focused on examining the impact of school policies on campus violence. According to Ford, there is not enough focus on prevention in social work — but UNI helped her develop the skills to change that.
“That’s something that’s severely lacking in all social services across the board is prevention of any kind, that’s something that I’ve really found through all the research that I’ve done,” she said. “Prevention is the one thing that I feel is the most important and that I’m drawn to. And that started my very first semester here at UNI.”
In addition to helping her develop a passion for prevention, UNI helped her develop a passion for research — and has given her a new sense of direction.
“Before UNI, I didn’t even know what research was,” said Ford. “Giving me the license to do a project and do original research … that’s where my entire trajectory shifted.”
For the first time, Ford has a vision of where life is going — she’s planning to pursue a doctorate in community psychology from University of Illinois at Chicago in fall 2019. It’s a huge shift from her mindset when she was seventeen and running away from negative experiences. Today, Ford is looking forward and is excited for what the future holds.
“This is the first decision I made that wasn’t decided by circumstance,” she said. “I got to make a decision and I’m getting to form myself. And that’s something I’m really looking forward to.”
For more information about UNI's Department of Social Work, visit csbs.uni.edu/socialwork.