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Alaina Brenner: Improv, outreach activities bring balance to academic rigors

alaina brenner

Alaina Brenner is a senior pursuing a double major in genomics and molecular genetics and anthropology and is a College of Natural Science Dean’s Research Scholar . She hails from Haslett, Mich.

College is the time in a student’s life to grow, change, and explore new things. Anyone—no matter the passion or hobby—can find exactly what they are looking for academically or socially at Michigan State University. I have learned over the past four years that the key to sustaining strong mental health and getting the most out of my MSU experience is a balance between academics, social clubs, and outreach.

I am a double major in genomics and molecular genetics and anthropology, which definitely keeps me busy. Deciding to take on these two majors has been nothing short of challenging, and I would often spend late nights in the library hunched over my laptop.

However, I am also a member of the Roial Players—a student-run, student-organized performance arts group on campus. Even though this club won’t get me further in my academics or make it high on my CV, without improv, I do not think I would have been able to take the pressure that comes with college. Having an outlet for stress and emotions is critical to my mental health and I can think of no better way than playing pretend with a bunch of amazing people. We laugh, we cry, we scream, we act, we improvise. Twice a week for two hours, I give myself a break from worrying about all the things cluttering my planner like my cultural anthropology paper due in a week or my genetics exam the next day. I get to completely let loose and converse with other students from many different degree programs and goals for the future.

Not only is it important to have nonacademic outlets for mental health, they also have been surprisingly relevant to my degree and future. My professional goal is to earn my Ph.D. in evolutionary genetics and become a professor and academic advisor. The skills I have developed while doing improv—including public speaking and thinking on my feet—are exactly what professors do on a day-to-day basis. I have even seen some graduate schools require improv classes as part of their doctoral program to learn the skills I now excel in because of the Roial Players.

Outreach is also a great outlet, providing for meeting other people both outside and within the university. I am involved in a community-based teaching program called the Human Ancestors Program through the MSU Museum that provides middle school students with hands-on activities that strengthen and expand their knowledge of hominin ancestors. Among other academic scholarship and outreach programs I participate in, the most noteworthy is the Dean’s Research Scholars Program in the College of Natural Science, for which I was selected and accepted for this academic year. My role as a Dean’s Research Scholar is to represent my institution and share with alumni the innovative research that I am contributing to their alma mater. This outreach program allows me to take a break from the stresses of college and focus on bettering my community.

Whether participating in improv or outreach programs, establishing a balance between academics and social activities is the key to sustaining a positive and healthy attitude while attending college. So get out there, make people laugh, provide for your community, and provide for yourself.

Publish date: Oct. 30, 2020