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Kendalyn Mack gives reasons as to why she chose Fresno State as her college campus at the conference room in the President’s office on Jan. 31, 2017. Mack is the first ever-presidential intern under Joseph I. Castro. (Khone Saysamongdy/The Collegian)

The first intern

Kendalyn Mack was once homeless, but now the public health major is Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro’s first-ever presidential intern.  

“I never expected to be here,” Mack said, “I never expected to have this role, to be so influential to the community and students.”

Growing up in Compton, Mack was surrounded by hardships before graduating high school. She was in the “lower end” of finances and knew nobody who had gone to college.

“It was so far-fetched. Nobody in my family had gone to college,” Mack said.

During her last years of high school, she split away from her parents. She had become homeless.

“We had conflict types of issues. It was best for us to separate at that time,” Mack said.

Wanting a better future, Mack excelled to end her high school career with the support of staff who believed in her.

“They [mentors] told me that I can do this. That I’m going to be somebody,” Mack said. “Those words are what allowed me to continue on, even when it seemed like it was impossible.”

She knew that her ticket out of all her struggles would be an education. That belief is what led her out of the environment she was in.

“It was solely on my academic support. They really kept me going,” Mack said, “I couldn’t have done it alone; I would have to show respect to my counselors.”

Hearing the experiences of other friends who were attending Fresno State only fueled Mack’s drive to pursue a higher education. Her dreams became a reality when Fresno State became the first university to accept her.

“It’s a feeling that’s hard to explain, but it was an amazing experience,” Mack said.

Attending college was not only a new experience for her but for her family as well. Mack was now on a mission to support herself. Her life has been different since.  

When Mack’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer, she stood by him during his chemotherapy. Seeing how much of an impact the disease and the treatment had on her father, it got her thinking about her own future.

She always had an interest in health, but after seeing what was going on with her father, she knew that passion could be used for something new.

“Seeing that, it just put a new drive in me to inform the community on how to make healthy lifestyle decisions for the mind, body and spirit,” Mack said.

Mack decided to major in public health with a concentration in community health and hopes to graduate in spring 2018. She wants to be a health education specialist with a focus in holistic health.

Mack said she began college with the mentality that she needed to focus on making the most money as possible to not end up in her previous financial situation.

“Now I’m in a place where I’d rather do something that I love, do something where I’m helping people,” Mack said. “I’m serving the community, and that satisfaction for me is much more than any financial gain.”

Last spring was the first time Mack met Castro. She admired how the president was so active with students on social media and in person.

At that time, Mack helped organize an art show of work done by people with autism. A room in the University Student Union had been transformed into a museum, and Castro was invited. To her surprise, he showed up. From that moment, Mack admired his leadership.

“I didn’t have any major pulls to Fresno State, and he still came. It was just amazing,” Mack said.

Mack continued being involved in other organizations over the summer. During those times, Castro was also there seeing the contact she was developing with the student body.

When she saw the job posting for the internship, she hesitated, wondering if this opportunity was actually for her.

She told herself: “I’m not ready to work with the president. Me? I’m from Compton. There’s no way I’m going to work for the president.”

But after encouragement from professors and fellow students, Mack applied for the position. After meeting with the chief of staff and with Castro, she was hired. Thirty people had applied.

Growing up, Mack learned to think small. She was brought up with limited opportunities. Having this new venture in life will lead to her goal of becoming somebody, she said.

“Wake up everyday and work for a purpose towards a goal. Nothing’s stopping you,” Mack said.

One of Mack’s special projects was working with the Fresno Street Saints, a nonprofit organization in Southwest Fresno, whose mission is to expose the students to things outside their often violent environment.

On Feb. 4 Mack planned an on-campus event for more than 100 of their members. The event includes campus tours, a basketball game and lunch.

The organization had a strong connection to Mack because she was in the same shoes as a number of the students who will be visiting. She said that even stepping foot on a college campus can make a large impact in the future of the students.

“Having this type of exposure, meeting President Castro, meeting me and other representatives on campus will show them it’s actually possible,” Mack said.

Her goals don’t stop there, she said. She would like to be certified in yoga and become an advocate for alternative healing options other than pharmaceutical medicine.

“There’s other options to treat yourself when you’re going through something or have a disease,” Mack said.

Mack is a strong believer in the power the mind has over the body. She said her mental motivation led her to gain a number of life-changing opportunities.

“It’s a life-changing experience when you start thinking positive,” Mack said. “You start thinking positive, and positive things start happening.”