Vaulting To New Heights
U Health/Kinesiology senior and Learning Assistant Kayla Rebentisch followed what she describes as an unconventional route to get where she is today. Growing up as an all-around gymnast in Southern California, Rebentisch was focused on perfecting her skills as a young competitive athlete. A member of the Junior Olympic Program, Rebentisch set her sights on being recruited for college gymnastics programs and beyond.
That is, until persistent injuries put her on a different path.
“It had been a lot of years of really high impact, high intensity training and [after several] injuries, my body was telling me to stop.” As a freshman in high school, she made the decision to abandon competitive gymnastics. This allowed her to prioritize other pursuits such as coaching, as well as additional honors and AP classes. With a renewed focus on academics, she knew she wanted to help others, particularly young people who suffered similar setbacks.
Rebentisch was already leaning towards a future in health sciences. So when it came to choosing a university, she knew she wanted abundant research opportunities near a hospital and health care resources. Coupled with its kinesiology program, the University of Utah became an obvious choice. Considering the University of Utah’s college experience, its proximity to downtown Salt Lake City and outdoor recreation, “I was in love from the first day,” she says.
Rebentisch immersed herself in her coursework, relying on Learning Assistants (LAs), undergraduate peer facilitators focused on student learning in the classroom. “I was so grateful for LAs because they were the ones that were supporting me,” she said. This support was critical as Rebentisch balanced classes with her undergraduate research in the College of Health.
A few years later when the opportunity arose to become an LA herself, Rebentisch was eager to return the favor.
As a Learning Assistant for an Intermediate Algebra course during the fall 2023 semester, Rebentisch enjoys helping students approach problems in various ways. “[Math is like] learning a new language and it can be really frustrating when it’s not done in a way that supports and advocates for the students… so I am glad I get to help.” This is particularly challenging for first-year students who are still acclimating to the academic environment of a university.
When asked what the LA Program is doing for her, Rebentisch mentions leadership opportunities. A natural teacher, she enjoys the opportunity to mentor others and help them make connections in their studies and throughout the university. It is the latter where she finds the greatest value as an LA. Students know her by name and approach her in and out of the lab or classroom. That strong sense of community, she says, is something that wouldn’t have been possible without her experience as a Learning Assistant.
Rebentisch has her sights set on receiving a doctorate in physical therapy, focusing on pediatric sports medicine, where she feels she was underserved as a young gymnast. “Highly competitive youth athletes don’t always get the care that they necessarily need for the longevity of their sport,” she says.
Rebentisch’s unconventional route–from high performance athlete to high performance academic and mentor–has come full circle as she makes good on her promise of giving back to others. One thing is the same: she’s still destined to vault her way to new heights.
Story by Bianca Lyon