NDSU student wins at 50th Annual YWCA Cass Clay Women of the Year celebration

Kayla Jones, an NDSU graduate student, won the youth activism award at the 50th Annual YWCA Women of the Year award show. Additionally, NDSU students Heather Gades and Natalie Lemnus were nominees.

The night celebrated the 41 women nominees and their work seen throughout the community. There were 12 award recipients, recognizing the various fields in which their impact was felt. Events like this aim to empower women making changes in Fargo-Moorhead and inspire future generations.

The following is a spotlight on the three NDSU students and their involvement that got them this recognition.

Kayla Jones

Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Kayla Jones completed her undergraduate at NDSU in psychology with minors in creative writing and gender studies. Now she is completing a master’s degree in education leadership, focusing on higher education.

Her activism comes in many forms but centers around the needs of students of color. “I’m really passionate about the overall quality of education as it relates to students of color, especially if they’re a predominantly white institution,” said Jones.

She has been a “frequent speaker at protests, rallies, and educational panels on things like women’s rights, race relations and diversity, equity and Inclusion training.” She has also been a driving force behind various mentor and diversity programs.

Jones speaking at a protest about women’s rights.

Early on, she says that “activism was a part of my life…I didn’t see it as activism. I just thought this is what people do, especially things with police brutality. Things like that were very common where I grew up.”

Her activism became very apparent when she moved to a predominantly white suburb of Kansas City. While there, she realized that “there were many things you can do about the disparities that were happening.” Adding, “I was at a predominantly white high school, and that led me into speaking up with administration about things that students were facing being part of diversity clubs there.”

When moving to North Dakota, she got involved in mentoring students of color at various middle and high schools. At first, this was with the NDSU Black Student Association, which set up a mentoring program at Liberty Highschool. After COVID, that opportunity closed down, but that didn’t stop Jones.

“I still really wanted that connection with students, so I reached out to Liberty Middle School to talk with their counselors and then talk with students there who just still needed that connection.” Jones added, “because of that work, other schools either had a connection to someone that I knew, or I’ve met them somewhere, and they’d reach out.”

Her biggest piece of advice for aspiring activists is to “take care of yourself. More than anything this year, I’ve learned activism burnout is so real.” Saying, “It’s ok to step back and treat myself as a human being. And not only this person who has to be a change-maker. You have to realize that you are worthy outside of your activism too.”

After college, Jones’s dream is to work on a diversity or multicultural program in a higher education institution. “I would love to be a head director of a diversity program and breath some new life into that.” Also, she would “ be interested in going deeper politically.”

She ended by saying, “If stuff like this inspires you or you feel like you want to be an ally or something, advocacy is one of the best ways you can do that… your voice doesn’t have to be the loudest in the room, but it should be present.”

Heather Gades

Heather Gades is currently working towards a master’s in higher education administration. Last May, she earned her bachelor’s of Science in Political Science and Human Development Family Science. She is from Fargo. Currently, she is a complex manager for residence life, a senator for student government, and a contestant for Miss North Dakota.

Gades presenting her project for Miss North Dakota

Her nomination centers around the various work she has done involving food insecurity as well as advocacy work for diverse students on campus. She helped create the Goods for the Heard Pantry at NDSU and serves on its advisory board.

Recently, Gades testified at state legislature four times this session for a failed bill that would have given free lunch to low-income students as well as another failed bill that would have formed a state-level task force to address food insecurity.

With the Miss America contest, her project has involved reading to children in elementary schools about food insecurity and the shame attached to it. Along with meeting with Fargo-Moorhead food pantries to get a sense of the issue.

With residence life, she facilitated a survey that asked students about safety and belonging. “Not necessarily just physical safety…but your overall sense of safety with a diverse identity,” said Gades. Finding that many international students felt like they are being treated differently than domestic students. Knowing that, they incorporate anti-bias training for the complex managers.

Gades also is on President’s Cooks Council for diversity, inclusion and respect. She focuses on institutional messaging surrounding all diverse identities.

Of all her work, she is proudest of Goods for the Heard. It “shines the brightest because there’s such a need for food on on campuses.”

“We know just with a lot of different research that all college campuses have students that struggle with food insecurity because that’s a niche that’s not met.” Gades added, “We did a survey at NDSU and we found that about a third of our students knew at least someone who struggled to have their food needs met.”

Reflecting, the most important thing she learned is “as much as we all want to change the world, and we all want to save the world and do all these things, you realistically don’t have the time for that, and you don’t have the energy for that. So in order to avoid burnout, really focus on the top two things that I can do to make a difference right now that I feel are the most important issues.”

After graduation, she plans to be a hall director at NDSU for a few years. In the long term, she wants to get involved n local politics along with her goal of being the first female director of residence life at NDSU.

Natalie Lemnus

Natalie Lemnus is originally from Valley City, ND. She is double majoring in finance and marketing, along with a minor in professional selling. She graduates in the fall of 2023, her third and a half years. She is a many organizations, including the student senate.

Her work as an intern for Emerging Prairie is what got her nominated. Their mission is to support and accelerate the local startup community. She works on the events team. Prairie Capital Summit and TEDX Fargo are some events they have organized.

“I’m really passionate about Tex Fargo because of the value that it brings our community,” Lemnus said. As “having speakers of all different backgrounds be there sharing ideas challenges us all to think differently.”

More specifically, she is a sales intern focusing on the TEDX Fargo event. This means creating revenue for the event, which is done by gaining sponsors.

Lemnus giving an announcement at StartupBREW, a weekly event for entrepreneurs.

This has been a learning experience. “It took me a lot to be comfortable with getting uncomfortable.” At first, “I’m so afraid people won’t take me seriously.” Adding, “asking large companies in Fargo for money to support TEDx Fargo, I was so worried that me as a 21-year-old girl, they weren’t gonna take seriously at all.” But, eventually, she realized, “I’m counting myself in. I deserve, and I’m qualified to be here.”

Additionally, she learned relationships don’t need to be transactional, even in the professional business field. Emphasizing the ton of great bonds and relationships with community members” that she will continue to build.

Another community event she is planning is a used outdoor gear sale on May 13. It aims to “make outdoor recreation accessible to everyone” and to unite the outdoor community within Fargo. Saying, “no mountains, no problem, because a lot of people think that there’s nothing to do here,” Lemnus added.

Going forward, she doesn’t have a particular career in mind. But, she says, “I love working hand in hand with people and with entrepreneurs and organizations and businesses. So I’m 100% no matter what career I’m going to, I really want to keep a genuine human-to-human connection…I like to be in the people business, so I’m definitely going to stay in that.”

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