Through moments of heartache and hardship, extraordinary bliss and fulfillment, Dr. Krista Harrell is still learning to come into her own in different areas of her life. Associate Dean of Students & Title IX Coordinator at the University of South Alabama, Krista lives an incredibly busy life.
Krista originally went to school for counseling, and she was planning to become an addictions counselor. She has always wanted to be in a helping kind of profession, but her senior year she realized that, with such compassion for others, she might not be able to separate personally from the patients she would be treating.
She was told of an opportunity at her alma mater where she could start her Master’s in higher education.
“Since then, I have done nothing but evolve as a person, and really be an advocate for how we are able to take the opportunities, education, privileges, and experiences that we have and help positively impact and influence others’ lives,” Krista said.
For Krista, education is the key to everything. “It is the key to improving our community, improving peoples’ individual lives, making a shift in culture,” she said. Now, having been at South for seven years, she realizes and appreciates the opportunities she has been given at the university.
“At South, the institution has afforded me the opportunity to come in and make the job and experience my own. I’ve had the opportunity to learn, grow, make mistakes, and bring my unique talent and skills to this position. But also be able to have the opportunity to be developed and molded and have people invest in me, which I hope I turn around and continue to do with my colleagues, staff, and students I work with,” she said.
Beyond the day-to-day responsibilities of her position, Krista tries to make a positive, lasting impact on the students she comes in contact with. “I say a lot that it’s a privilege to be invited into the lives of our students. We have the unique opportunity to be able to provide services and programs that help them develop personally, engage on campus, be academically successful, and figure out who they are while they’re here. So, my mission, really, is to support the student experience as best as we can from start to finish by lending a helping hand, but also challenging them when need be.”
Last year, Krista turned 40, and she reflected on what she has learned about life and herself thus far.
“I’ve been very confident in who I am as a person for a long time. But as a woman, I’ve always been a strong advocate for others, but in the last year or so, I’ve been thinking about what my personal journey has done for me to be able to do those things better for myself. I know that I am more comfortable with myself as a woman now than I ever have been. Not just with outward beauty or my confidence level in my profession, but just as a person and embracing all the things I wanted to in the past. Being someone who is caring and nurturing, but is also strong, formidable, empowering, sensual…I’m trying to embrace all those things for myself as much as I’ve hoped I can help other people do, and I think in the last year or so I’ve really been able to come into my own with that.”
“I know that I am more comfortable with myself as a women now than I ever have been.”
While she has grown a lot in the recent years, Krista is always trying to push herself to develop into a better version of herself. Right now, she’s focusing on how she can continue to develop and evolve and push herself in a way that is of service to others and to herself. She knows that if she doesn’t think of herself, then she is never going to be able to serve others well.
Krista tries to find time for herself, but this has been an ongoing challenge. “There are times where I focus more inwardly and there are times that I focus more on health…then other times it’s more about financial wellness. So, I go through seasons of where I put my focus. Right now, it’s about getting back to traveling more,” she said.
Krista’s biggest piece of advice to women and young girls is to find a good tribe of people with whom you can share love, joy, support, and experiences and give each other the hard feedback, tough love, and quiet listening ear. “Because those are the things that make life.”
Another is to value yourself and be able to do that through understanding what self-esteem and self-confidence are.
“Some people feel that it comes innately, but I respectfully disagree with that. I think it is something that is developed and challenged overtime. I think for young women, or those who identify as women, in particular, there is an onslaught about our external appearance, how we navigate societal norms. So, having a strong footing about who you are is extremely important,” she said.
Krista’s personal goals in life line up perfectly with what Focus’s mission is: to encourage, educate, and empower others. Krista got involved with Focus in the early planning stages of its first year.
“I wanted to get involved because what [Focus’s Founder Devin Ford] was thinking was my truth, too. It was ‘what is our responsibility to make change in our community, or give people the resources they need to be successful, or bring people together who value the same things and want to see each other succeed.’ I love everything about Focus. I thought ‘I can’t be in Mobile and not want to be a part of it and support it.’ And it has been exceptionally mutually beneficial. I’ve met an army of women I never would have before,” Krista said.
As far as Focus’s future, Krista sees it as a bright one.
“I think it’s uniquely situated to be able to make some strategic changes in the community by bringing together these forces of nature, these leaders and change makers in the community, with women who are that in their own way but might not have all the connections or expertise or confidence they need yet,” she said.