ASU grad found a community and support by getting involved on campus

January 25, 2022

Renee Kasten is a perfect example of resilience and determination: After experiencing an abusive relationship early in college, she found a supportive community by getting involved in student life and sharing her own story.

Originally from Prescott, Arizona, Kasten graduated in December 2021 with a B.S in biomedical sciences. 

She was a New American University Scholar and is looking forward to a career in health care. Her aspiration is to be a physician and bring modern medicine and scientific forward-thinking to areas that need it the most. 

ASU grad Renee Kasten

During her time at ASU, Kasten was involved in the Programming and Activities Board; 942 Crew; a member of the marketing team for Change the World; the undergraduate student representative for the Student Health Advisory Board; a teaching assistant; the executive director and cofounder of Sun Devil Health Advocates; and a facilitator for Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention. 

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kasten also planned and moderated the COVID-19 Speaker Series, which gave a space for experts to answer questions from the audience about anything COVID-19 related.

Kasten says she is proud of all she accomplished on campus, especially her work in sexual violence prevention.

“It gave me the confidence to tell my story to others and educate everyone that violence is prevalent in the community and it is up to us to spread awareness and stop it,” she said.  

Kasten was a facilitator with ASU’s Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention Program and led two cohorts for a six-week program that teaches students at ASU about violence, how to prevent it and to know the resources ASU offers. She also spent time facilitating bystander intervention presentations to other on-campus groups on campus. 

“This presentation in particular is important, as bystander intervention can save someone from violence and can even save someone’s life,” she said.

Kasten was inspired to do this work because of her own experiences. She said she experienced an abusive relationship her first two years at ASU, and it affected her emotionally, physically, mentally and academically. She said that she didn’t know at the time, but she was not only experiencing the typical forms of emotional, mental and physical abuse, but she was also experiencing academic abuse and sabotage.

During her second year at the university, Kasten found an amazing community through the Programming and Activities Board that supported every goal and aspiration she had. 

“Recovery has its own set of challenges, but I get to sit here graduating cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences. Going through one of the darkest times of my life and now feeling like I am unstoppable is what inspires me to help others each and every day,” she said. 

 As she prepared to graduate, Kasten reflected on her time at ASU and shared some wisdom for other Sun Devils.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I actually became a biology major because I knew I wanted to do something in health care and knew biology was a pretty generic degree to do so. 

I started to then think about becoming a doctor and just decided yeah, I’ll do this. It wasn’t until I started shadowing doctors that I finally felt like I knew what I wanted to do, so I stuck with biology. 

Then one day during my junior year, I was studying glycolysis and it hit me: I loved learning about the body and the countless ways it functions and works in harmony. Biology looks at the body like an amazing piece of art that is so intricate and detailed yet simple and straightforward. I know not many people look at the body that way, but that’s how I knew I was where I was supposed to be. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: One of the best things I learned at ASU was stress management. I learned this from both SWU 349 and just time navigating my grades and degree. Stress is all about mindset and tackling one thing at a time, whereas before I thought stress was not manageable and was a normal thing everyone would go through. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I knew I wanted to stay in state but hated the cold, so NAU was automatically out. It was then between UA and ASU. My mom and I drove to ASU to tour the university, I set foot on campus and had this overwhelming feeling of home, and as cliche as it sounds I knew that ASU was where I was supposed to be. I told my mom we were not going to tour UA because I knew ASU was where I was going to go.   

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. Salamone teaches MIC 314: HIV/AIDS, and he taught me to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. He always discussed that HIV and AIDS kill millions of people every year, but we don’t talk about it because that requires a conversation about sex. We need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, because it can protect our population. Thank you, Dr. Salamone, for inspiring me to talk about the issues others won’t.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: School is challenging, stressful and at times can seem impossible. Embrace it. When you embrace it and accept the challenge, it turns your mindset from a negative one to a positive one, and you will accomplish anything. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: I loved studying near the coffee shop in the original Hayden Library. It was such a calm and comfortable space for me to just be alone and learn. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am going to work at Banner Health to gain more experience in a hospital and in health care; then I’m planning on applying to medical school.  

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would tackle the misinformation regarding vaccines. Immunology and vaccination are difficult topics to learn and truly understand through and through. I would want to spread accurate, easy-to-understand, bite-sized pieces of information to spread the message that vaccines save lives!