FLHD Major Named 2021 COEHD Valedictorian

Published: April 08, 2021 | Author: Savannah Byers | Read Time: 4 minutes

Education Valedictorian Alexandra NielsonAlexandra Nielson has been named the 2021 valedictorian for Southern Utah University’s College of Education and Human Development. She is graduating with a degree in family life and human development with double emphases in family services and early childhood development. Nielson plans to attend graduate school and become a registered play therapist.

“I was so happy to learn that Alex is our valedictorian this year,” said Professor Brionne Neilson, assistant professor of family life and human development. “It’s an honor well earned! I’ve had Alex in several classes, and she has always been an excellent student. Cooperating teachers at her practicum have also had nothing but good to say about her work with them and her interactions with the children there. I’ve also had the privilege of having Alex as my TA this past year, and she has been invaluable! Through all of this, we’ve had some great conversations about her future goals. During one class, I hosted a panel on play therapy, and Alex got very excited by the possibilities they shared. It’s a great opportunity to combine her talents and desires for working with children. I expect great things from her as she moves forward with her goals!”

Growing up in Hyrum, Utah, Nielson enjoyed creating art, playing piano, hiking, camping, and dancing competitively with the Mountain Crest High School drill team. She began at SUU in fall 2017, initially drawn to the university because of its size, location, and emphases on experiential learning, practicum placements, small class sizes, and tactile learning opportunities.

Through COEHD, Nielson had the opportunity to complete multiple practicum experiences at SUU Preschool, South Preschool, and Head Start in addition to volunteering at the Family Support Center.

“SUU has helped me discover my passion of working with kids and solidified my desire to work with kids as a play therapist through all the amazing practicums and volunteer experiences I’ve been able to have,” said Nielson. “I’d have to credit Dr. Brionne Neilson and her classes with helping me figure out what I want to do for a career since she exposed me to play therapy (which I didn’t even know existed) and how amazing play is in helping children develop, process experiences (like trauma), and just how amazing and resilient kids are in general and how rewarding it is to work with them and play a part in helping them develop, heal, and find their place in the world.”

Professor Maren Hirschi’s experiential classes were also a big inspiration for Nielson and contributed to her decision to become a play therapist.

“Every time I think about Alexandra and her presence in my classes, the words that come to mind are thoughtful and attentive,” said Professor Maren Hirschi, assistant professor of family life and human development. “When I say thoughtful, I don't just mean kind, I also mean intentional and reflective. I saw this in her written work as well as in class participation. Many graduates of the College of Education and Human Development are heading into the world to work with people. Often, our work comes at dark and heavy times in the lives of others. Thoughtfulness and attentiveness are qualities that create a comfortable and safe space for people who are hurting in whatever way to work towards healing and growth.”

Outside of the classroom, Nielson has been a member of the SUU Honors Program, served as President of the FLHD Club, and has volunteered with several of SUU’s Community Engagement Center’s (CEC) programs including Days for Girls, Wee Be Groovin’, and After School Sports.

In the spring of 2019, Nielson deferred her formal schooling for a semester to complete a global experiential learning project with the International Language Program (ILP) in Zhongshan, China. While in China, Nielson taught English, took Mandarin classes, took cultural classes, and traveled around China.

“This project really helped open my eyes to the wide variety of lived experiences each person has, even within the same culture and really helped me see how beautiful and important these differences are,” Nielson said.

When asked what advice she’d give to current and prospective students at SUU, she said, “Be kind—to yourself and to others. You never know what struggles a person is going through and what their smiles may be hiding. Be quick to listen and to help, not to judge. Your kindness can only help and could make all the difference. In the same breath, take care of yourself—it’s okay if you need to slow down, take a break from school, and regain your balance.”

Learn more about the 2021 valedictorians or Southern Utah University's 2021 Commencement Ceremonies

Tags: Graduation College of Education and Human Development Family Life and Human Development

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