Walk through Newcomb Hall with Keli Presley and it’s hard to believe she’s a first-year student.
As she moves down a row of students promoting weekend events, everyone seems to know her. Two friends say hello, and another invites her to an a cappella performance.
Presley did get a head start making friends on Grounds through UVA’s Summer Transition Program, which allows first-generation students like her and others who need it a chance to preview the college experience. It’s this kind of support and a financial aid scholarship that are allowing Presley to make the most of her time at the University.
UVA was among Presley’s top three college choices. Raised in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, by her grandmother, her acceptance was a moment of celebration for her and her family and friends.
As decision day approached, UVA rose to the top of Presley’s list. She recognized that the University was a place where she would be challenged academically by both her peers and professors, but could still balance her studies with extracurricular activities. “Everyone is at such a high level here, she said. “I love telling people I got into UVA. I can do so many things now.”
Presley’s favorite instructor her first semester was biology professor David Kittlesen. “He has this Bob Ross energy,” she said. “You can tell he’s really passionate about biology.”
Studying for biology and her other classes takes up much of Presley’s time. Her favorite study spot is the stacks of the Charles L. Brown Science & Engineering Library in Clark Hall. She also works as a caller for Cavalier Connect.
Presley hasn’t wasted any time getting involved on Grounds. She’s a member of the Latinx Student Alliance (LSA), an organization she describes as “the closest thing I have to family here.” Presley’s mentor in the LSA introduced her to her other extracurricular passion, College Survivor. In this semester-long competition based on the reality TV show, participants are divided into “tribes,” compete in endurance challenges, and form strategic alliances as they vie to be the last competitor in the game.
Presley’s long-term goal is to attend medical school. She has applied to the Kinesiology program at the Curry School of Education and Human Development and plans to pursue a minor in Spanish. And she hopes to make time to try even more new things on Grounds, including volunteering at the UVA hospital.
When asked what someone might be surprised to know about her, Presley replied, “That I’ve overcome all these things that are supposed to be setbacks.” With Presley’s drive and enthusiasm, she is poised to better her own life and the lives of those she will serve in the future. She’s not just surviving, she’s thriving.