When Jayne Kessel stepped foot onto Hope College’s campus three years ago, she knew she definitely wanted to do two things: play volleyball and become a teacher.
When Kessel steps foot onto the stage to graduate this spring, she will have done one of those two things. Her volleyball commitment remained firmly intact. Her teaching decision, well, that got spiked after her freshman year.
Instead, the senior student-athlete, with majors in both chemistry and Spanish, will become a dentist. In doing so, she pursues her passion for health care, mission work, and the noble endeavor of helping people smile.
“As long as I could remember, I wanted to be a teacher,” says Kessel, who is from Byron Center, Michigan, and graduated from South Christian High School. “But after my first year at Hope, I fell in love with my science classes here. Chemistry is how my brain naturally works. That’s the analytical side of me. But I was always drawn to Spanish too. I love the grammar aspect of it because it’s logical.”
And she’s good at both too. Really good. She has made the dean’s list every semester of her Hope career but even more impressively, for two years in-a-row, when the Hope volleyball team played in the Elite Eight (2013) and then won the national championship (2014) at the NCAA Division III Women’s Volleyball Finals, Kessel earned the Elite 89 Award. This prestigious honor is given to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average at each of the 89 finals sites of NCAA competition. Kessel won each year with a perfect 4.0.
“Though it was given to me individually, I do believe the award is a reflection of our whole team,” says Kessel, ever the consummate team player. “It shows our balance and hard work in both volleyball and our studies. That is what Coach (Becky Schmidt) always emphasizes.”
Schmidt concurs but only to a point. She’s fully aware that Kessel’s drive toward perfection in the classroom and improvement on the court is self-originating. No student-athlete works the hours Kessel works without an inner voice telling her that dedication to both identities is real and worthy. Devoted to the strengthening of her brain and body for the sake of her studies and her team, Kessel is a true role model for her team, for Hope, and for Division III.
“Jayne’s greatest strengths are her attention to detail and commitment to learning,” observes Schmidt of her team’s co-captain. “She helps ensure that everyone is on the page, shows care and support for every member of the team, and maintains championship level standards for everyone all the time.”
Now in the midst of her last season, the libero, or defensive specialist, will be interviewing at five dental schools from coast to coast this fall. While the application committees certainly will be impressed with her Hope College transcript, what they will also find is a young woman with a heart for helping and exploring. She has volunteered for two years at Health Intervention Services, a non-profit, faith-based clinic for the uninsured in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her experience in Brazil on a medical mission boat on spring break in 2013 not only satisfied a need to serve but also “birthed my interest in the possibility of taking time away from a regular practice to perform missionary dentistry in underserved areas around the world.”
But it was a semester spent in Spain in the spring of 2015, at the Universidad de Alicante, where Kessel encountered the kind of self-discovery and cross-cultural education that ventures abroad are meant for. There, she uncovered a deeper appreciation for the beauty of new places and people, for a greater sense of independence, and for accepting one’s own mistakes and imperfections, even embracing them.
“I’m a bit of a perfectionist,” Kessel admits, “so early in my time in Spain, I was hesitant to speak much because I was afraid to make a mistake. But then I realized, it was not about being perfect. It was about making relationships and building confidence and trust. It was about listening and expressing ideas. I absolutely loved my time in Spain, but it’s great to be back (at Hope) too.”
And with that, she flashes a wide, white, toothy smile.