When she was 10 years old, an experience in Sierra Krueger’s life shaped her future. Her four years at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point brought it into focus.
Her cousin, Amy Krueger, was among 13 people killed in a Fort Hood, Texas, shooting in 2009. As the family and community of Kiel, Wis., mourned the loss of a “fantastic person who really cared about everyone she met,” Sierra helped during the funeral. “I am the oldest of the young cousins, and my task was to distract the younger cousins.
“That’s when I first understood helping people through hard moments was something I wanted to do,” Krueger said. She intended to become a funeral home grief counselor.
She came to UW-Stevens Point with a major in pre-mortuary science. In her first week of class, Krueger realized her strengths were personal connections and support, not math and science.
Krueger was part of LEAP – Learning Enrichment and Achievement Program — a mentoring program that pairs new students with student mentors and UWSP host families for their first weekend in Stevens Point. Her host, Julie Schneider, was also an academic adviser on campus. After Krueger explored several career paths, Schneider suggested social work.
Krueger was sure she wasn’t interested – until she took her first class with Professor Amy Zlimen-Ticho, director of the social work program. “She opened my eyes to all the different avenues of social work,” including youth programs, education and health care settings. Krueger, who graduates Saturday, plans to be Hospice social worker.
“UW-Stevens Point helped me zone in and show me endless options of how I can help people. It helped me practice the purpose I discovered for myself,” she said.
“Sierra is a giving, dedicated, engaged learner and is passionate about effecting systemic change in these complex times,” said Margaret Kubek, assistant professor of Sociology and Social Work. “She demonstrates respect for vulnerable groups and possesses an ability to analyze complicated issues. These qualities make her a tenacious social justice advocate.”
The LEAP program (now called LEAD+) informed Krueger’s decision to pursue social work, Schneider said. “She immersed herself in assisting students transition to the world of higher education and decided she wanted to make a career of helping people help themselves, as well as working to change inequities in our society that create the need for this help.”
“Being a mentor held me more accountable because I had 4-5 underclassmen looking to me for advice. A lot of times I had to do research so I could help them. It made me a better student,” Krueger said.
She advocated for first-year students and helped them find ways to advocate for themselves. “It was pretty much a dry run of being a social worker. I learned so much about case work and what I’m going to be doing in the future. As a mentor, I was able to get to know students, help them set goals so they could achieve what they wanted to do, help identify resources on and off campus to help them be better students, better people.”
She worked hard to learn how to excel at college in her first year and shared the knowledge she gained in the LEAP with her mentees, said Trisha Lamers, director of the Tutoring-Learning Center, which includes LEAP.
“Sierra faced various challenges, both school-related and personal, with a great work ethic and a positive, forward-facing attitude.” She helped her mentees work through roommate challenges, personal and academic development and checked on their mental health, Lamers said. They gave her a perfect score for attitude, listening skills, concern for their well-being and growth and being a positive role model.
“I can’t thank my mentees more for all the help they’ve given me just through the experience of being their mentor,” Krueger said.
Another great experience that helped Krueger build skills was working with the Admissions team for STAR (Student Transition, Advising and Registration) for incoming students. “I was able to talk about all the amazing things about Point, all the things that made my decision to come here so much easier, what I wish I’d known coming in. It was an amazing experience,” she said.
That led to be hired as an Admissions ambassador, leading tours and sharing tips with prospective students, ranging from finances to feeling at home.
“I can’t imagine my time at UWSP without looking back on the experiences I’ve had with LEAP, STAR and Admissions, in addition to the classroom. The amount of professional growth I’ve gotten I can all trace back to being a mentor, being an ambassador,” Krueger said. “That’s one of the great things about UWSP: There are so many experiences outside of the classroom that become your classroom.”