Alumni Spotlight: Kendyl Laughlin - Ready to make an impact in the therapeutic recreation world

by Jordana Newman  |   

Kendyl Laughlin relaxing in kayak on water
HPER alumna Kendyl Laughlin trying out a tandem kayak on Mirror Lake used during her summer internship. (Photo by Allison Suis)

Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (HPER) alumna Kendyl Laughlin shares her experience of being the first graduate of the Therapeutic Recreation concentration and recently passing her national CTRS exam.

Name: Kendyl Laughlin

Hometown: Palmer, Alaska

Graduation Year: University of Alaska Anchorage, Class of 2023

Why did you choose to attend UAA?
I chose to attend UAA because we have a great kinesiology program. I was born and raised in Alaska and initially liked the idea of going out of state to a different university, but I shortly realized it was not for me and I became homesick. I came back to Alaska and enrolled at UAA.

What motivated you to pursue a career in healthcare?
I think what motivated me most to pursue a healthcare career was the idea of helping people. I was never interested in becoming a doctor or a nurse of sorts, but some form of a therapist has always been my end goal. I had no idea what recreational therapy was until I met HPER program director Eric Oba, and with his help alongside my advisor/HPER professor TJ Miller, I was able to take the steps to become a recreational therapist. My experience at UAA helped shape my goals by providing me with the right materials, resources, and courses that I needed to become a recreational therapist.

Can you explain what a recreational therapist does and why it's important?
A recreational therapist does many things such as creating treatment plans for clients, documenting patient progress, setting goals for patients, planning, organizing & overseeing therapeutic recreational events, providing individual and/or group therapy sessions, and collaborating with doctors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, nurses & other healthcare professionals.

The work is important because I believe recreational therapy is a beneficial option for individuals and groups to use as a means of improving their overall health and wellness. Recreational therapy impacts the lives of our clients by creating healthy coping mechanisms, providing a safe space and an outlet, helping alleviate symptoms of diseases and disorders, creating autonomy, and more. The thing I love most about recreational therapy is that it is a way for me to help people as much as I can, which is my ultimate goal.

How has your education at UAA College of Health helped you contribute to the community?
I believe my education has helped me contribute to my community by promoting the importance of health, leisure, and recreation participation. I believe it has also made a positive impact on the lives of others by helping build bridges between communities. For example, I traveled to a small village on Iliamna Lake and presented to the students there about mental health, leisure, coping skills, and more. I would like to think the students got something useful out of my presentation!

How did your education at UAA prepare you for what you are doing today?
My education at UAA prepared me for my career in recreational therapy by giving me the resources and tools to perform to the best ability. I was able to use the resources to further my knowledge of the biomechanics of the human body, kinesiology, and recreational therapy.

Who influenced you most during your time at UAA?
The people who influenced me most during my time at UAA are TJ Miller, Eric Oba, and some of my classmates. Not only was TJ my advisor, but he was also my professor for the majority of my courses. He helped me develop new skills that I use every day like interpersonal skills, leadership, and communication skills. Eric has helped me develop skills and increase my knowledge in recreational therapy, which I was able to utilize during my internship this past summer and use in the workplace in the future.

Kendyl Laughlin walking in nature
HPER alumna Kendyl Laughlin connecting with nature at Hatcher Pass. (Photo by Maclaren Obremski)

What was your personal journey that led you to this career?
What led me to my current career in my personal journey is my long battle with my mental health. I did years of mental health therapy and while it helped, I felt like I was always missing something out of each session. When I learned about recreational therapy, I knew that I wanted to provide some of the elements of mental health therapy with the environments used in recreational therapy. In terms of my professional journey, I think just taking the educational steps to become a recreational therapist was what benefited me most.

What are your future goals for this career?
My hope for my career in the future is that I can develop my recreational therapy skills more and find a population to work with that best suits me. I enjoy working with the behavioral health population, as that is what I did during my internship, so I would like that to be my focus. I also hope one day to be on the board of the American Therapeutic Recreation Association and to give presentations about my work at conferences. Lastly, I would like to be a recreational therapist that travels around the U.S., or even internationally.!

Can you share an accomplishment from your career that you're proud of?
This is a very easy question because it is the most recent accomplishment of mine. I passed the national Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) exam, which means I am eligible to be a certified recreational therapist in the United States.

Share your best college memory.
My best college memory would be going on a backpacking trip with TJ and Eric as a part of one of my summer courses. We backpacked 8 miles into Williwaw Lakes and camped overnight. It was a great experience, and I had so much fun.

What were some of the most valuable lessons you learned while studying at UAA?
Discipline is one of the biggest lessons I learned in college. It allowed me to have more control over my life and my decisions, as well as increase my success in academic performance. I also believe that knowing your learning style and developing it can help with overall performance with assignments and classes. 

What advice do you have for current students who want to make the most out of their experience at UAA?
Get involved! Taking advantage of the activities and opportunities that UAA has to offer is a great way to expand your horizons and make meaningful connections. It is also a perfect way to meet professionals who may be able to help you out in your future career. I would not be where I am today or who I am today if I didn't participate in the things that were available. 

Describe UAA in three words.
Challenging, rewarding, and fun!

Is there anything else you would like to share?
I would like to say that I am so grateful for the people I have met through UAA and the connections I have made. I owe it all to TJ, Eric, and my other professors. It has impacted my life by opening so many doors to different professions! I had so much fun at UAA, and I am proud to be the first graduate of the recreational therapy program!

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