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#KindnessForKristen message strikes a chord in classroom

#KindnessForKristen message strikes a chord in classroom

“The idea behind Kindness for Kristen is that it’s not about people having these hardships, but making a difference in some way because of it,” says Jenna Drenten, an assistant professor of marketing.

By Jacob Voss  |  Student reporter

Late last fall, when most professors were handing back papers to their students, one Loyola instructor did something a little different: She gave out money.

Jenna Drenten, an assistant professor of marketing in the Quinlan School of Business, filled dozens of envelopes—each with a crisp $5 bill—and passed them out to the students in her Marketing 201 class. On the outside of the envelopes, Drenten put a rainbow sticker and the words #KindnessForKristen. 

It was Drenten’s way of honoring her late sister Kristen, who passed away in November 1997 at age 15 after a long battle with osteogenic sarcoma, a form of bone cancer that affects roughly one in a million teens. But it also was Drenten’s way of showing her students that she’s more than just a professor—and that small gestures can, in fact, make a big difference.

“Sometimes professors and students don’t really share the personal things going on in their lives,” said Drenten, who started teaching at Loyola in 2014. “But I like to think that students appreciate seeing another side of their professors outside of just giving them exams and projects to do.”

Kristen’s impact on others

In the last few months before she died, Kristen didn’t want to dwell on her cancer. So instead of focusing on the negative, she decided to create something positive.

Gathering up $200 of her own money, she started a college scholarship for students at her South Carolina high school. Kristen’s initial goal was to raise enough money to distribute one or two scholarships in 2001, the year she would have graduated.  But thanks to several donations, the Kristen Julia Drenten Memorial Scholarship was awarded to seven graduating seniors in 2001—and has been awarded annually ever since.

That message of helping others is the driving force behind the envelopes Drenten handed out to her students.

“The idea behind Kindness for Kristen is that it’s not about people having these hardships, but making a difference in some way because of it,” Drenten said. “That is a big part of Kristen’s message and how she lived her life. The cancer was not something that defined her. It’s the impact that she had on other people that really defined who she was.”

A motivational message

Drenten was not able to spend the anniversary of Kristen’s death with her family, so last semester she decided to honor her sister with a Kindness for Kristen campaign. Along with the $5 she handed out, Drenten told her students about Kristen’s message of spreading kindness and asked them to do the same.

For the next few weeks, Drenten received e-mails from her students about how they spent their money. Ashley Bennett bought hot chocolate for the homeless; Charity Driggs bought coffee for a random stranger at Starbucks; and Lynsey Patlan donated it to bone marrow research.

“It was really nice that not only was it something to acknowledge my sister and celebrate her life, but also allow my students to give back in a way that was personal to them,” Drenten said.

And it gave at least one student something to think about beyond homework and tests.

“We have that time that Kristen doesn’t have,” Lauren Rasch said, “and this experience that Professor Drenten gave us motivated me to make something out of it.”

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Click here to learn more about the Kristen Julia Drenten Memorial Scholarship.