The importance of including the “personal” in higher education: Janelle Applequist at TEDxPSU

The importance of including the “personal” in higher education: Janelle Applequist at TEDxPSU

September 1, 2019 4 By Ronny Jaskolski


[ Music ] [ Applause ]>>So think for a minute. Have you ever had a moment in your life when you knew that everything was about to change? That nothing would ever be the same after that moment? Raise your hand if you’re with me. Yeah, so we’ve all had a moment. Good or bad, right? Mine was probably a little bit worse than I would have hoped it would have been. My moment occurred when I was 13-years-old. It was the exact moment I fell off a trampoline in my gymnastics class. I hit my head on a brick wall, and I knew that things would never be the same from there on out. But let me rewind, just for a minute, so I can tell you a little bit about my story. 314 million, this is the current population in the United States of America. Of this 314 million, each year, 1.5 million individuals sustained a traumatic brain injury. 1.5 million. Of this 1.5 million, 50,000 people die. 85,000 experience of the onset of a long-term disability. And 230,000 are hospitalized, but survive. My name is Janelle, and I am one of 230,000 individuals every year that sustain a traumatic brain injury, gets hospitalized, and survives. But, like all things in my life, that just wasn’t enough for me, so it had to get a little bit worse before it could get better. I’m not a physician, but the best way I can explain to you what happened to me next is this. If this is your brain, and you what you see here in the red circle is your cerebellum, a team of neurosurgeons diagnosed me with something called Chiari malformation. Chiari malformation is when your cerebellum in your head is essentially way too low. It puts pressure on things it shouldn’t be putting pressure on, and it obstructs this flow of spinal fluid, so it hurts, it hurts a lot, and it causes a lot of symptoms with your nervous system and I couldn’t walk, and I couldn’t eat properly and I started to have a hard time talking. 50,000, this is the number of individuals in the United States currently thought to have the condition that’s known as Chiari malformation. So, yes, I am one of 1.5 million, I am one of 230,000, and I am one of 50,000. But I was one 13-year-old girl that wore a neck brace for six months, and then discovered I needed to have brain surgery. I’ll never forget the morning that my parents drove me to have my surgery. I was only 13, I didn’t know what to expect, and as you can tell, I still become emotional. That morning my family came together and we got through it. And I’ll never forget my parents telling my two older brothers, you can’t miss school that day. Education was really important in our house, and they said you can come see her after the surgery is done. Come at night. The first memory I have, and I can’t even look at it, because I’m just going to, like, flood, right? The first memory I have whenever I woke up after my surgery was this, feeling this pain, but it was really this [laughter]. Yeah, it was a long day for them, I guess, not me, at all. But they went against my parent’s wishes and they were there. And I knew in that moment I was loved and I was supported and that we would get through this together. But I don’t want to downplay my experience. This was excruciating for me. And, for me, this really isn’t a TED talk, this is my life, and I hope that you can get that through the tears. But this is my everyday reality. But my moment didn’t mean that my life was over. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today. This is me now. I directly took what happened to me when I was 13, and I used it to make the world a better place. Today I study health communication. I’m currently pursuing my PhD in Mass Communications, here at Penn State, and I study patients and how they’re represented in the media, because I know, better than anyone, how important it is for patients to understand that they’re being heard, and that they’re understood, and that they have a sense of hope. But I didn’t stop there with my research, because I know that you might be thinking, when you think of academia, you think of the pressure to publish, or the pressure to have accolades, or to get in the best journal, or get all of these awards. And that’s not it for me. For me, academia is about the education and the instruction. What we take when we walk into the classroom to teach our students here at Penn State. And that’s what I’ve taken with me from my experience. I’ve learned that you have to lean on others for help, you have to ask for it, and you also have to listen to them, but what’s most important is that you begin sharing your story. Every day, when I walk into my classroom, I share a piece of myself with my students. I think if education, and higher education in particular, did more of this, our world would be a much better place. If we showed each other more emotion, more empathy, and we just lend a listening ear, I think we’d be in much better shape. So what I want to leave you with today isn’t particularly innovative or novel, it’s just this idea of sharing your story. But that’s what I’m doing today and I’m giving this story to you. This is my life. So, yes, I overcame a bit of adversity, and at one time I was this 13-year-old girl, and I didn’t know what my future held. But now, every day that I walk into my classroom with my students here at Penn State, I remind them that no, you aren’t just 1 out of 40,000 here, you’re mine, you’re individual, and you are unique. And I encourage them, at the end of every semester, find your one moment, and share it with the world. [ Applause ]