BIG RAPIDS – Kelsey A. Schnell smiled with pride as he graduated this May with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a minor in Political Science.
The inspiration behind Schnell’s smile runs deeper than earning his degree. The Bay City native is also smiling for his great aunt, Marjorie Denison, who died on April 23, 2010.
“Aunt Marge” was a major part of Schnell’s Big Rapids support system.
“Her doors (both the house and refrigerator) were always open to me,” Schnell says. “Before she passed away, I put on my cap and gown for her, and pride was clearly visible in her smile.”
Remembering his great aunt, her advice is still ringing in his ears.
“We were kindred spirits. I would stop over to her house a few times a week and update her on my life, have a cup of coffee and just talk,” Schnell recalls. “She was an educator for Big Rapids Public Schools and an important figure in the community. She was always so humble and kind. She would say, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected.’ She was right.”
Schnell, perhaps mostly widely known as editor-in-chief of the Ferris State Torch student newspaper, also cites his parents Kurt and Patrice Schnell, who also is a Ferris graduate, as a strong support network. He adds, “I’m lucky to have cool parents that get this whole college thing and trust me to make good decisions.”
He has worked to always make his parents proud.
“I’ve looked forward to taking the next steps for awhile, and the fact that my time here as a student is coming to a close is daunting,” Schnell says. “I’ve always felt that I’m a pretty average student but with extraordinary opportunities. Ferris was the right fit for me.”
Beyond academics, Schnell has been active in several high-profile organizations at Ferris. As Torch editor-in-chief, he says he has increased the paper’s readership, enhanced its Web and social media presence, and promoted campus goodwill through “strong, responsible journalism.” In addition to an expected 26-hour work week at the newspaper and then some, Schnell has been affiliated with the Ferris State Red Cross and Ferris Recyclers, leaving him minimal idle time.
“I’m graduating with a degree; I’ve been managing what is essentially a small business in the Torch all year; I’ve made great contacts and friendships with extraordinary people; and I’ve had fun,” Schnell says. “Any college experience is a good opportunity to learn, both in the classroom and beyond.
“My college experience was exceptional,” he adds.
His work and influence now extends beyond the Ferris campus.
Schnell, and fellow Ferris student Brandon Martinez, developed a non-profit Web site, the College Newsroom. The site is described as “a resource and community for collegiate journalists, editors, designers and everyone else involved with campus newspapers to share, critique, commend and learn to continuously improve the world of college newspapers and beyond.”
“College Newsroom continues to grow and be successful as a not-for-profit resource for college newspaper staff all over the country,” Schnell said. The site is www.collegenewsroom.org.
Schnell, keeper of a busy and ambitious schedule, emphasizes that he is no different than his fellow students in the sense that he contends with the same issues and concerns all college students must endure.
“I’ve been dealing with the same stuff that all students deal with,” he says. “This is a time when perspectives change and personality is truly formed. There have always been issues with money, grades, time and my future, but I’ve been lucky to have those challenges and learn from them.”
Schnell’s success traces back to a support system that extends beyond his family to Ferris faculty who have been receptive, willing to listen and share their ideas and thoughts.
“There are loads of people who have played an integral role in my education and experience at Ferris, supporting and challenging me. Dr. Dave Steenstra of the College of Business is the best professor I ever had,” Schnell says. “From time-to-time we would pontificate in his office about the university, the world and my next steps.”
The future is up in the air for Schnell, who has won several awards during his time at Ferris including second place in a public speaking competition, the John F. McNamara Award for outstanding contribution and the Ferris Honors Outstanding Leadership Award.
“I don’t know what’s next, nothing definitive,” he says. “But, I know when people ask me where I graduated from, I will proudly tell them, ‘Ferris State.’”