Fellow Spotlight: Kaila Epps

March 5, 2019

Coming from a home where education was a top priority, Kaila Epps set her goals toward college at an early age. She originally wanted to pursue medical school, but what began as an initial gap year of service changed the course of her professional career forever.

During her year of service, she saw how she could make an impact on the communities she wished to serve without going the medical field route. “There are different ways to help people. Your passion isn’t always what you first set out to do or what you think it is. Every step I’ve had has put a little piece of it together, and now the picture is in view. My year of service tutoring and mentoring students in Chicago definitely played a huge part of that.”

Kaila Epps is currently pursuing an MBA at Indiana University and interned at General Mills as a Human Resources Business Associate. We caught up with her to find out how her service year influenced her career.

What was your background before joining SAGA?

I’m originally from Indianapolis and grew up in a single parent home. My mom always pushed education as the top priority, and everything else came second. I went to Spelman College for my undergraduate degree, and got a bachelor’s in Spanish with a pre-med track. I originally wanted to be a pediatric cardiovascular surgeon. I witnessed a lot of mistreatment of minorities in mixed neighborhoods, and didn’t like seeing that a language barrier could mean life or death. I wanted to help in those communities, so I did a lot of volunteer work at school. After I studied abroad in Argentina for six months, I decided not to take the MCAT right away and decided to do a gap year. That’s when I discovered the opportunity to tutor and mentor students.

Why did you decide to be a SAGA Fellow?

A: My uncle is from Chicago, so the city was familiar to me. It wasn’t too far from Indianapolis, either. I felt I wouldn’t be too out of place. I was also already tutoring at Atlanta area high schools while I was attending Spelman, and it seemed like an interesting opportunity to give back.

What did you learn as a SAGA Fellow?

I was surprised by the impact you’re actually making on the students. I didn’t realize how much the students were retaining. It sometimes seemed like some material would go over their heads. But then they came back with test scores from their regular coursework and say they learned things we went over in tutorial. In the moment, you don’t always see the impact. It’s more in hindsight when they say what you’ve done has positively played out for them.

I also learned how to balance being an authority figure and a mentor. You have to control the behaviors in a classroom as a Fellow; you can’t come off as a friend or as too power-hungry. You have to show you actually do care.

How did your SAGA Fellowship influence the next steps of your career?
I decided not to pursue medical school. My experience helped me see that I could directly have an impact on the communities I wished to serve without going the medical field route. The next job I took was teaching professional skills as a Program Coordinator at Genesys Works. I helped high school students develop professional and life skills, allowing them to secure internships at Fortune 500 companies. Having experience working with high school students in Chicago gave me more insight into how to have the right dynamic with students to help them move forward.

Have you been involved with SAGA as an alumna?

During my second year at Genysys, I created a partnership with the school where I tutored, and a few of my students were able to benefit among others. Overall they were super excited to participate, and it was a good mutual relationship.

What are you doing now?

I am currently getting my MBA in general management at Indiana University. I’m interested in going into human resources. We don’t have an HR concentration at Kelley School of Business, but I did build a human capital club to educate our class on what human capital is. I also interned with General Mills as a Human Resources Business Associate intern and will begin full-time in summer of 2019.

What advice would you give to future SAGA fellows?

Stick with your students even through the rough times. Truly show them that you care and are there for them. It will make the world of difference in your relationships going forward and can help propel them further if they know they have a solid support system in you.