For senior communications studies major and marketing minor Krista Huff, the hills of Huntsville have a special meaning. They remind her, she says, of the long and sometimes uphill journey she has been on as a student at Sam Houston State University.
Huff has been through some life experiences that she credits with getting her to where she is—losing her brother, transferring to SHSU, dramatic weight loss, ending an abusive relationship and a close call with cancer. In a few months, Huff will attend the Texas Leadership Forum in Austin, an event she has been looking forward to but also one that represents the end of one road and the beginning of another toward reaching her dreams.
Just a few years ago, Huff said she was a completely different person at a different stage in life.
“When I was 16, my brother passed away from heart complications,” Huff said. “He was mentally disabled, but he was the strongest person I knew. He was my hero and his passing was my first experience with death.
“When I graduated from high school, I was overweight and unhealthy. I started college at the University of Texas at San Antonio, but I didn’t get involved in anything because I didn’t have very good self-esteem, and it was the first time I had to fend for myself.”
Huff said that there wasn’t much she would call good about her first college experience.
“I was a biology major, but I didn’t like my classes,” Huff said. “I hadn’t made any friends, and I was gaining weight and just miserable at school. I came home at the break, and I didn’t want to go back.”
But Huff found encouragement in her brother’s example and decided to try something else. She started eating healthier and working out and got out of a bad relationship. She decided to transfer to SHSU two years ago, when her parents retired and moved to Huntsville.
Huff said that in beginning again in Huntsville and working to improve in many areas of her life, she remembered something her father always told her about her last name.
“Every time I walked out the house to go somewhere, my dad would remind me that I was carrying his last name and to carry it with dignity,” Huff said. “I still remember that to this day and whenever I do something good, I feel like not only am I proud of myself, but all the Huffs that came before me and suffered and sacrificed to give me all the opportunities I have today are smiling down on me. My last name is strong because through my leadership and milestones, I am doing exactly what my dad told me to do—carrying my name with dignity. That is the greatest reward that I could ask for.”
Her decision to “leave my past behind me” and transfer to SHSU, Huff said, “opened so many doors that I never expected.”
“It was such a great thing,” Huff said. “I got involved, made new friends and got my grades up past just average. I am now a part of Project Sunshine, an organization that works with disabled kids and adults; I am a mentor for Emerging Leaders; I am a transfer student ambassador, which is a new program the university is starting.”
Emerging Leaders, an on-going leadership series offered for transfer students who join a cohort and commit to attending each of the sessions, teaches students about leadership, communication, individual and group values, team building, and active citizenship. Huff said she has also learned the value of differences in others she works with.
“I have learned that each person has a certain talents, not all the same,” Huff said. “The end result of many different people coming together is beautiful. A leader, however, has to be able to recognize those talents and how to utilize them best.
“Through the Emerging Leaders program at SHSU, I have learned how to use each person’s talent and create a common good. SHSU has made me more outgoing and not afraid of leading because I might be afraid of failing.”
She will also attend the Texas Leadership Forum on April 5-7, which features team-building activities, service projects and keynote speakers. The conference brings together upcoming student leaders from around the state to learn from senators, athletes and other successful figures.
The conference—an all expenses paid, competitive selection event—helps attendees learn how to be successful in the real world, interview skills and networking and many other things.
Part of the selection process is an application essay about ‘”Who inspires you in history?” Huff said writing the essay and reflecting on her answer was simple.
“I chose Martin Luther King and Ghandi, because I am inspired by the way they fought for what they believed in in a peaceful, non-violent way,” Huff said. “But as I was writing, I also thought about other people in my life that have influenced me and inspired me. I thought of my brother, who is my hero, and my parents, who have been an encouragement and by my side every step of the way through whatever I have gone through.”
Part of the conference, Huff said, is not only learning how to be a more effective leader, but also reflecting on what qualities makes a great leader and why leadership is important.
“The importance of being a leader is making an impact on what I'm working on and who I am working with,” Huff said. “Accomplishing a common goal and completing a project successfully is what I look forward to and the more I have my name out there, the more doors can open for me.”
Following graduation in December 2013, Huff hopes to return to her hometown in the Baytown-Clear Lake area and work in administration in a chemical plant or in the health administration field in local hospitals. She said she hopes to use her public speaking and creative-thinking skills—things she has developed in her time at SHSU—in a job “working with people, because that is what makes me happiest.”
Her involvement with Project Sunshine particularly helps her give back and honor her brother’s memory through her service, she said.
“I love running around and playing with the kids at Project Sunshine,” Huff said. “I do this because it is so important for families and moms to have a break and for the kids to know they are loved and special, which I understand after the struggles with my brother. This is my way of giving back, as with all the things I do. I feel I am giving back a little bit of what my brother gave to me—the strength to carry on.”
Huff said this conference is not only a great opportunity for her future career but also an achievement that reminds her how far she has come and the role SHSU has played in that journey.
“I am so excited to attend this conference, because I feel like it is the beginning of a new journey for me. I have been through a lot so far, and I’m only 22,” Huff said. “It is a breath of fresh air to feel like I am coming to the end of a journey that hasn’t been easy but a goal I never saw myself getting to in my life. I feel like I am finally starting to come into my own, and I think I have something now that I wouldn’t say I had just a few years ago. I feel like SHSU almost saved my life in a way, because it gave me a new outlook on who I could be.”