CATCHING UP WITH KELSEY RUEHLING '16

Kelsey Ruehling '16 in Yosemite National Park
Kelsey Ruehling '16 in Yosemite National Park

What were some key reasons you decided to attend Guilford?

There were multiple reasons I was attracted to Guilford. I was offered a great merit scholarship. I had the opportunity to continue to play a sport I loved, and participate in a dynamic faith community through the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program) Coming from a small town in California, I was also excited to explore a new part of the country.

What were some factors that helped you realize the success you enjoyed as a student at Guilford?

The diversity of academic experiences offered at Guilford helped me nurture not just a love of biology (my major) but also environmental conservation and many other disciplines. Guilford also attracts a population of engaged and passionate students and professors, who create a community of scholars dedicated to pursuing academic excellence. I’ve come to realize that Guilford truly is unique, and I am so grateful for all the ideas and passions cultivated and disseminated from there.

What were some factors that helped you realize the success you enjoyed as an athlete at Guilford?

When I packed up and moved across the country, arriving at Guilford with a team and group of friends already in place relieved a lot of stress associated with the transition. Spending long hours in practice and on the road with my teammates created lasting bonds, different than those created outside of athletics. One example of how these friendships extended beyond the court occurred a few months after graduation. I was living on Bald Head Island in the Outer Banks in 2016 and missed the last ferry back to my house on the island. So I called up Brooke Herr and spent the night at her parents’ house in Southport. That’s the kind of relationship teammates create, the ability to support one another in totally spontaneous situations.

What have you been up to since you left Guilford?

I’ve traveled across the country (multiple times) participating in various ecological projects. My positions have taken me from the beaches of Bald Head Island, North Carolina, to the shores of Yellowstone Lake to the alpine meadows of Yosemite National Park. I’ve worked with different at-risk animal populations: loggerhead sea turtles, Yellowstone cutthroat trout, southern sea otters, and numerous amphibians. For the last two summer field seasons, I’ve worked for the U.S. Geological Survey monitoring endangered and threatened amphibians in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Most of my fieldwork is located in the backcountry of Yosemite so I spend a lot of time backpacking and hiking in some super spectacular wilderness!

How has Guilford prepared you for where you are today?

Guilford helped me create a number of academic and cultural lenses to critically examine the world around me. I feel like I am a better scientist because of the English, political science and psychology courses I took while at Guilford. In addition, the countless essays and written assignments built my confidence as a writer and communicator, skills deeply needed in the scientific community during this current political climate.

What about your experience as a Guilford student-athlete has helped you the most?

As a field biologist, I work in small teams and often in physically challenging and remote locations. Participating a team provided insight into the importance of relationship building and understanding how to work closely with individuals despite differing views. I also think being a student-athlete requires a high level of mental toughness, on which I’ve relied since my time in the Ragan-Brown Field House. Telling employers that you’re a college athlete comes with some perks. No one has ever questioned my physical abilities to perform in the field.

What do you miss most about Guilford?

The humans. You don’t realize while at school that things are VERY different after graduation. As someone who hasn’t stayed in one location for more than six months since graduation, I miss the community of Guilford. However, I’ve made time to visit and host many of my favorite Guilfordians since graduation, for which I am grateful. I still keep in contact with professors and staff members who continue to positively influence my life.

What are your future plans?

That’s always a hard question for me. As someone who works seasonally, I don’t have much advanced warning about where my next step will be. Currently, I don’t know where I’ll be living in October or what I’ll be doing but honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I will say that graduate school and returning to an academic community are in my future. Wherever I am, I will continue to research and help preserve aquatic environments.

What is one thing a high school student-athlete considering college needs to know?

Keep your options open. If you have the opportunity to apply to a variety of schools, private, public, large, small, do so. Especially if you’re unsure about the type of school or the discipline you’re interested in. I wasn’t considering playing varsity athletics in college until December of my senior year. Situations may change and having multiple options will allow students to make the best decision possible given their circumstances. Hopefully, when you do pick a school, the decision isn’t entirely based on athletics, because there is so much potential to be more than just an athletic body in college.

Identify and describe one or two of your favorite moments or experiences while at Guilford. 

I took part in the inaugural Surfing Centuries IDS course offered by Guilford, led by Maia Dery. As an athlete learning a new sport (shockingly this California native was not born on a surfboard!), I struggled to accept my inevitable failure as a beginning surfer. Maia helped me realize the beauty in the process of surfing rather than the end result. While I rode the turquoise waves of Nosara, Costa Rica, I thought abstractly about my future scientific career and the impact recreational engagement has on one’s sense of professional purpose. I dedicated my culminating IDS research paper to the topic of “girl localism,” the connectivity of women’s empowerment through surfing (or other engaged natural play) and their environmental activism. The time in Costa Rica imprinted in me how playing and engaging in my natural surroundings fuels my professional determination to preserve threatened ecosystems.

I had a powerful moment as a freshman in my First-Year Experience lab class. Max Carter was walking my class around the graveyard at New Garden Friends Meeting and mentioned many names that were striking historical and genealogical cords within me. He rattled off names of Quakers that provided assistance in the Underground Railroad and later relocated to Indiana, where many of my Quaker relatives lived. I asked my mother to send me some of our genealogical information and brought it to Max. Together we found my direct descendants dating back to the Revolutionary War, William and Pricilla Coffin, are resting just across the street from Guilford. Realizing this space that I chose to grow as a young individual was previously tended to by my kin only reinforced Guilford as the place I was meant to be.

- Kelsey Ruehling '16