A FIRST-GEN’S TIP FOR SUCCESS: ASK FOR HELP

Keren Jean-Charles works through the university’s Minority-Serving Institution Student Council to help other students thrive at UNLV.

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Keren Jean-Charles is a first-generation university student striving to advance UNLV’s “serving” mission as a minority-serving institution. The junior psychology major is actively involved in student organizations and projects that elevate students’ voices and their role in shaping the college experience for traditionally underrepresented students.

Tell us about yourself.

Both of my parents are from Haiti, and my siblings and I are first-generation college students. I’m an artist and have been one my entire life. I create art in many mediums, but my all-time favorites are oil painting and digital art.

What projects do you do within the Minority-Serving Institution Student Council (MSISC)?

My first project was a podcast called “You Gon’ Listen,” where I was the executive producer and host. I brought guests in from all walks of life, and we spoke about issues that affected their communities. Some topics we covered included the Black Lives Matter movement, ableism, LGBTQIA+, capitalism, Asian hate, and many others. We hoped to spread awareness about these issues to the UNLV community and beyond, allowing listeners to hear directly from those affected. The podcast aired on the radio at 91.5 KUNV. It can be found on most platforms where podcasts can be found.

My second project is to help the people who suffer from food insecurity in the UNLV community. With the help of the MSISC, we will provide a $20,000 grant to the UNLV Food Pantry and a $1,000 grant to The Intersection food pantry to make sure our UNLV family can have access to food if they need it. The pantries help students, faculty, and staff.

What are your dreams and passions?

My dream is to build a community center to help the homeless population in Las Vegas. I want to have a space where we can provide free food, free bathroom access (including showers), free resume building and employment help, free therapy, and other free necessities to help those in need.

Who or what inspires you?

The person who inspires me the most is my past self. I used to struggle with food insecurity and homelessness, and now I’m on a mission to help those who were in similar situations. I’m also inspired by my many mentors such as Dr. Harriet Barlow, executive director of The Intersection; Dr. Ana Marrero, assistant director of The Intersection; Dr. Renee Watson, associate vice president of student life; and Dr. Juanita Fain, interim chief diversity office and vice president of student affairs. They all have supported me and inspired me to be my best self. 

Do you have personal projects you can tell us about?

I mentioned earlier that I’m an artist. I sell art on my website. Right now, I’m developing my art and making more pieces so I can officially launch the website. The website is up and you can still look at pieces or buy art at krnstudios.bigcartel.com. I’m also getting into herbalism and diving back into reading for pleasure.

How has UNLV affected you?

Being at UNLV showed me that even though I may suffer from imposter syndrome sometimes, I can make a difference. Since my first year here, I have been able to be in spaces with highly qualified individuals and those who have been making their mark at UNLV for years. I could share my ideas with them and be heard. That’s a very special thing that I’ll always carry with me.

Why is the MSI Student Council important to you?

The MSISC is important to me because we get the opportunity to help people nearly instantaneously. With only pitching your idea to the council, making a budget, and being connected to the right resources, you can make change happen on campus. It’s amazing.

Do you have any tips that you swear by that may help other students?

Ask for help. Ask for help. Ask for help! This campus is full of resources. You are not as alone as you feel. If you need help finding these resources, find a mentorship program on campus. I recommend The Intersection in the Student Union, but I’m biased since I work there.

How do you stay balanced in a world that’s unbalanced?

I try to spend time with myself for myself. I take a day to do whatever I want to do. If I want to sleep, I sleep. If I want to eat, I eat. If I want to make art, I make art. If I want to just exist, I just exist. It sounds simplistic, but when you spend so much of your time for others it’s hard to do things simply for yourself without any purpose. It’s very freeing.

Reprint: UNLV Today, January 20, 2022

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