Back to Top

NERD Philosophy


Kevin: But the advice I would give myself, I would tell them to break free. For me, it's basically to not be shy, and be confident in the ability that you always had. And I would call him a NERD. Because the word, NERD, for me is an acronym. It's, "Never ever, ever realize defeat."

I’m Dan Baum and you’re listening to Redefine U. Join us as we continue to explore what happens when we’re challenged to change our thoughts, beliefs or even who we think we are.

How do you go from shy and uncertain to confident speaker and leader?

In this episode, we hear how Kevin Lemus, a student in AACC’s Construction Management program, did just that. We also speak to Forrest Caskey, a professor in both Academic Literacy and Interdisciplinary Studies departments, about the importance of community.

First, Kevin’s story.

Kevin: Hi. My name is Kevin Lemus and I'm a student here at Anne Arundel Community College, studying construction management.

Dan: Well, welcome, Kevin. Thanks for joining us.

Kevin: Oh, thank you.

Dan: You have an interesting story of how you came here to AACC. Tell me a little bit about that.

Kevin: So, during my time at high school, I was always trying to see what I wanted to do after. During my senior year, I would always think about colleges to apply to. I applied to Embry–Riddle University as well as Capitol Tech here in Maryland, and Tennessee Middle State, I got accepted to all of them. I also got academic scholarships from them ranging from 10,000 to 12,000 each …

Dan: Wow. That's great.

Kevin: ... a semester. But something in me was like, "I'm not good enough to go to college." I struggle with confidence and I never believed in myself, never believed in my ability. Although I had family members always saying that, "You could do it. You can do it." I felt like they were obligated to say that to me. During … Once I graduated, like two days later, I got my first job. And then a month later, I got my second job. And during this time, I would still have that inner battle with if I wanted to go to college or not, "Was I good enough?”

Once I got those calls from Ms. Cassandra Moore telling me, when am I going to apply for classes, I would always give her the same response to be like, "Oh, I'll do it soon." But I would never do it. And then it would be a recurring thing. Almost every week, she would call me up until ... It was sometime in August where she called me. This call was different. She said, "Oh, can you come in for a breakfast?" I was like, "Sure. I'll come in for a breakfast." It was different, but I'll come in for a breakfast, "Hey, free food." Once I came in, I was told that I was going to receive a scholarship.

Dan: Wow.

Kevin: In my head, automatically, the first thing that I said was, "another academic scholarship, no different." But what stood out to me is that when they were explaining the scholarship is they said that someone believed in me. They wanted to invest in my future. Those words stuck out to me because I felt like someone else that is not family actually believed I was worth investing time and money into.

Dan: What did that feel like when you heard that, knowing that someone else who didn't know you believed in you?

Kevin: It felt great. It was a feeling that ... I can't even explain it. It was just so wonderful to feel that. I felt warmth run through my body. It was just an amazing feeling just to know that someone else believed in me.

Dan: What do you think held you back initially, given that your family was being supportive? You were getting some scholarships from other school ... What was it that was holding you back?

Kevin: It was my confidence. I was never confident in anything. Even though I was doing good in school, academically, I never really believed anything I put out was great. I felt I could've done better. I would second guess almost everything. But I guess that had to range from the things that I've had gone through in the past that actually destroyed my confidence such as my father … my mom and my father separating, and then my mom and my stepdad separating as well. And it just destroyed me. It destroyed my confidence.

 A lot of people ask, "How did it destroy your confidence? It was basically saying to me that if they left just like that. I wasn't worth anything. It just destroyed me completely, knowing that they left.

Dan: Wow. Once you got here, what challenges did you feel you faced or how'd you overcome those challenges?

Kevin: The challenges I faced was to actually break out of my shell, to actually know that I had a voice, and just project it to people and basically saying that I'm here. I struggled with doing that. But once I actually started taking my first class, the first thing I told myself is that I want to break out of my shell. "Let's put it all forward, no just taking one step at a time. Just put it all on the line right now." Every time I did a presentation, I was loud. I was enthusiastic, and I was proud about my work.

Dan: Some kind of a switch really flipped …

Kevin: Yeah.

Dan: … When you learned that you had somebody backing you.

Kevin: Yeah.

Dan: That's fantastic. There must've been some risks involved in coming here, if you weren't confident before … What did you feel? Were there some risks?

Kevin: The risks I felt were, "Was I going to actually do as well as I did in high school?" I heard that college was hard. And I also heard that the stigma of community college is just like 13th grade.

Were people going to make fun of me? Were people going to judge me? I had actually a couple friends stop talking to me because I was coming to a community college.

Dan: Really?

Kevin: Yeah.

Dan: So that sounds pretty risky. So how did you handle that?

Kevin: The one thing I always did was that when people actually stopped talking to me, I would always think it was for the best because what I've heard before is that if people weren't there when you are at your low, they don't deserve to be there when you're at your best.

Dan: That's a great perspective. What about helpers on the journey? Did you find you had some … Obviously, right in the beginning, even the director of admissions, Cassandra, calling you. But then after that, did you have other helpers that have helped you along the way?

Kevin: I would always have to say ... Not regarding school, but my mom, my sister, they were always supportive. They were always supportive of my decision on what I want to do. Of course, they always wanted me to come to college, but they always there to say, "Look, if college is not for you, don't go." So, I had that support.

And once I actually came here, I had a lot of support. I just met … I met Miss Cassandra, Ms. Janice Whatley, Professor Forrest, Pablo, Sam. Oh, the list goes on and on. I just had a long line of support that literally, if I needed anything and one person wasn't available, I had like a line of people that I could just go and just talk to if I ever needed anything.

Dan: You have a lot of interaction with other students. What obstacles do you find that they're facing? Do they echo some of the things that you experienced?

Kevin: So what I’ve …. What I've seen is that every student is different. But I get to see a little bit of me in them. A lot of people that I see are shy. They are shy presenters. They are shy to do this. Basically, I see myself in some of those people that are shy to present. It's basically like seeing a mirror. I just talk to them. At one point, I talked to this person. They said that, "I was so shy to present." I was like, “what you feel inside is not projected on the outside." And I told them that. And then like two weeks later, I saw the student again. They were like, "You know that advice gave me? I kept onto it and it actually made a big difference. I got a B on my presentation. It was the highest grade I've ever received on a presentation."

Dan: That's excellent. And clearly, you're in such a great position to share that with other students. It's very authentic because you've experienced it yourself. They must really relate to that.

Kevin: Recently … Actually, it was around Christmastime, I went to my high school. I was sharing my story. I was sharing how it is to be in community college. The one thing I've always gotten was that, "community college, my parents don't accept it." And I said … And the one thing I always told them was, "who's going to the college? Is it your parents or you?"

Dan: Right. Good question.

Kevin: That's the philosophy my mom always gave me. She said, "I'm not doing it. You're doing it. It's for your benefit, not mine." When I was sharing my story a lot of people would just sit and look at me. It would be quiet. And then I would get a few students to be like, "How'd you do it?" I said, "I just one day woke up and took a leap of faith." They said, "Really?" And I was like, "Yeah, that's all you need. You just need to believe in yourself and just jump."

Someone believed in Kevin and a switch flipped in his mind. Warmth and confidence replaced doubt and uncertainty. In an incredible transformation, he broke through his shell, found his voice and unleashed his enthusiasm — he took a leap of faith.

One of Kevin’s helpers was Professor Forrest Caskey. In addition to teaching, Forrest is involved in many activities around campus — all with the common theme of building connection and community. Let’s talk to Forrest about why he feels those themes are so important to his students, himself and the community at large.

Dan:                How long have you been at AACC and tell us about your role here.

Forrest:           This is my fourth year, so three and a half years, and I am the … an academic literacies professor, which is developmental reading and writing, but I also am in the Gender and Sexuality Studies department. So, I teach American studies, LGBT studies, and pop culture.

Dan:                So let's talk a little bit about developmental courses. What exactly are developmental courses?

Forrest:           Typically developmental students are kind of, sometimes considered to have some sort of learning disability, but I've found that most of them actually do not have a learning disability. A lot of them have just had something happen in their life to where they've missed out on a little chunk of their education, which makes them a successful reader or successful writer. So, we get them to that level.

I meet with them five hours a week and the first two to three weeks of the course, it's team building, getting to know each other, I'm establishing trust with them and then we read personal essays by Malcolm X and Gary Soto and other people who just really write from the heart to talk about their struggles and how they learned how to read or write or got into school later in life.

So, they're connecting academically and they're connecting metacognitively and they're connecting with me and with each other. They start writing these personal essays and they start pouring their hearts out into them. This one student, she's brilliant, but she's like, "My brother was killed in a drive-by shooting when I was a sophomore and I couldn't focus on school." And she says that when she reads, she starts to drift off and think about that and that she just couldn't pay attention in school but she wants to. When that happens then I start directing them into counseling and getting students enrolled into SASP, Student Achievement and Success Program here on campus. They are a conduit for students to go into all kinds of service programs. So, that was just one example, was that student, but it's not unique.

Dan:                Yeah. I'm curious how you help them overcome these different challenges. When it's a major life event like that, you might direct them to other resources and services. Are there other ways that you help them overcome some of these challenges?

Forrest:           Let's see. Because we're together five hours a week and a lot of these students have major trust issues with school, they haven't either bonded with a teacher or they're poor testers. So a lot of them have test anxiety. They've always just been, feel, I guess, victimized by the system, but they start to establish relationships with me, with other people on campus, like with their SASP advisor or tutoring center, but also with each other.

They're making these friendships and I always, I actually have a little PowerPoint of myself and my friends because when I was a freshman college, I still have the same core group of friends from my freshman year of college. So I'm like, "The people you meet in this classroom might stay with you for life." Right before I came here, I checked the roster for my, one of my classes and it's two girls who became best friends in my 040 class and now they're in my 101 class coming up in the spring. They become accountability partners and they start to get on each other to come to class and do the work and focus. So that really helps them as well.

Dan:                This is not all that you do here though. You are a faculty advisor, you're involved in clubs and things like that. Tell us a little bit about the other areas that you're involved in.

Forrest:           Sure. So I'm one of the faculty advisors for the GSA, which is the Gay Straight Alliance. It's a club that's growing, actually. Usually about 30 to 40 people come to the meetings and they're held for two hours once a week and they do events about once or twice a month. They're very active. And then I'm also the faculty advisor for Sigma Chi Epsilon, which is a honor society for developmental students. Once they leave the developmental program, they go, and if they reach a certain grade point average, then they're part of this honor society and it stays with them for life.

Dan:                What drew you to get involved in these different groups?

Forrest:           Well, the GSA is very personal, you know, as a queer faculty member. I remember being in college in the '90s right after, during, towards the tail end of the AIDS crisis. When I was coming out in the early to mid '90s in New Orleans, all the people that I met were dying, basically. So it was a very weird time to be coming into gay life.

Dan:                It's kind of scary I would think.

Forrest:           Yeah, it was very scary. Yeah. So when I went into college, we were fighting for visibility. We were fighting for attention from the government for money to go to this crisis. And also just to being treated like a basic human being. So when I became just a faculty member, I wanted to give back and put myself back into that club, into that environment.

Dan:                And what challenges do you find that students face that you interact with in that environment as opposed to in the development of classes?

Forrest:           Well, in that environment, they seem pretty secure in their education. They're mostly struggling with space. So one thing about AACC is we're not in a city. We're more or less in small town suburbs of Annapolis. There's no gay clubs, no gay bars, no queer community centers, which is where those of us who are from cities, where we go to for safety.

So for these students, AACC is their place to feel safe. That's why the club has a large amount of people, large amount of members. Also they hold a lot of events because they hold dances and they do a drag show and they have parties and fundraisers. This is a way for them to have their community, which is this campus. So when they go into the community, because it's not a city, they don't always feel so safe expressing themselves and being who they are, but this campus is more or less a safe space for them.

Sometimes students will ... in their cars, change from one gender to the next and then come onto campus and then go back to their car and change into the gender that their parents or community thinks that they are and then go home.

Being part of community is safety. You have people to watch out for you. You have people who really do genuinely care about you. And that is why I'm here. I really enjoy being a part of that matrix.

Dan: Clearly you're placing safety as a priority, putting that first. How did you arrive at that as so paramount?

Forrest: I think just from hearing my students' experiences. I know that at least one or two of my students each semester is either homeless or becomes homeless at some point in the semester. That was a big shock to me.

Dan: I would think so.

Forrest: Yeah. And for various reasons, a lot of students get kicked out for their sexuality or gender identity. That's a huge thing.

Dan: Of housing?

Forrest: Of housing.

Dan: Where they're living?

Forrest: From their parents. Their parents either kicked them out if they come out or if they discover that they're not who they want them to be. Sometimes a family member might lose a job.

So, when I started noticing this happen, it was because students would disappear. I know that happens to everyone, all of us, our students disappear throughout the semester for whatever reason. But I would call them on the phone and try to reach out to them. And if I was able to make that connection with the student, then they would pick up the phone and maybe explain to me what was going on. And so then after being here with time at the college, with time, I started to … I sat down with Tiffany Boykin one day. She oversees a lot of the student support services and things. And I was like, "What do we have for these students? I really want to give this message to them because I keep noticing that this happens. I feel like it's an epidemic." She started telling me all the resources that are in the community, that we have here on campus. I just feel like it's my job to communicate to the students these things.

Dan: When you talk about community and safety, were there certain people that helped you to create safety for yourself or a community that you found?

Forrest: Yeah. Growing up I had a single mom who worked two jobs and a sister and a grandmother who also worked. So, I was the typical latchkey kid. You get off the bus and you had a key and you go home and you have to make dinner for the family and started working when I was 14 and then worked full time all through college. I didn't have the traditional go to college, not work and live in the dorm situation. I had to work full time throughout the whole thing. I went to community college in between all that as well to figure out where I was going. I was a film writing major, and I met a biology professor at community college because I was trying to take my biology prerequisites and he just, I don't know, took me under his wing. I don't know what it was he saw in me, but he really sort of opened my mind to other avenues in college. So, I was always afraid of science, but I started to love it because of him.

I got back into school full time, working full time. He was one example of what happened to me, but it was college professors, college staff, and then people in the community at the jobs that I was working who really helped me out and transformed me from this New Orleans kid from a lower middle class environment to going up to New York to college and then to where I am now.

Dan: We've heard this theme of asking for help a lot in the people that I've been speaking to. Do you find that to be a challenge for the students that you work with, is they're not willing to ask for help or they don't know how to ask for help?

Forrest: Oh, exactly. Yeah, completely. They either don’t … I don't think they know that they can't ask for help and I don't think a lot of times that they think that they can trust the person is actually really going to help them. There's, I mean, countless times when I try to send students to writing centers or to the literacy lab, they say, "I don't want anyone reading my paper. I don't trust them." I hear that all the time. All the time. But once they start interacting with more and more people on campus, they start to realize that they can start to trust people. It's a slow process for some of them, but they can start to trust them.

Dan: With all that you do, I feel like saying, "Wait, there's more," because you're also involved in other activities too, like the Intergroup Dialogue. What exactly is the Intergroup Dialogue?

Forrest: Sure. The Intergroup Dialogue is, it's a group of faculty and staff members. We get together about once a month and we just have very frank, honest discussions about privilege, but not necessarily always explicitly about privilege. Just sometimes we'll focus on race. So, it gives people a chance to talk about their experience as a white person or as a person of color. A lot of times students come and it just gives people a chance to speak and be heard and to listen and to just learn about each other's experiences.

Dan: We seem to be in a very polarized period right now. What happens when you have those dialogues?

Forrest: It's, a lot of times, very emotional. The dialogue sort of conjures out a lot of emotions from people and it doesn't necessarily get political, it's more just personal. It's people saying, "This was my experience, for example, as a black woman," and talking about what their experience with racism is and the day-to-day life. And sometimes these experiences cause a lot of anger, sometimes a lot of sadness. I rarely leave one of these conversations without crying in public or in my car on the way home to Baltimore.

Dan: You mentioned students participate sometimes. What do they get out of being part of those dialogues?

Forrest: I think a lot of times they've never explicitly talked about these issues. A lot of times people don't explicitly talk about race. We're not supposed to talk about race. I think a lot of people are afraid to talk about race because they're afraid of saying something offensive and there was also sort of a mentality that, an "I don't see color" mentality, that existed for a while, so people just didn't talk about race. And it's also very painful to talk about race. And I'm just saying race right now, but we talk about social class, other things. I don't think people really talk about these issues with people who might have a different opinion than them and people from a different background than them.

I think it's really easy for a lot of like-minded white people to sit there and talk about the struggle that black people go through because we can talk about it. But when you're actually presented with someone who's just, you can sense them, smell them, see them, hear them, who's right next to you actually telling you about their experience, then it's way more visceral. And students usually leave feeling pretty emotional and usually wanting to do something. They want to act.

Dan: Well, you're obviously a very busy person. What keeps you going? What motivates you to do all these different things?

Forrest: Coffee? Yeah, coffee and I just, I don't know. I love the work. I'm really good at managing my time. Always worked two jobs most of my life so I'm used to working really hard. But also just love the work. I love teaching. I love working and interacting with students, especially the students that we serve. Students who sometimes need a little extra love and someone to understand them. I just feel like, in a way, that it's my calling to do this and I really love it. I wake up, still four years into it, excited to go to work.

Dan: And what does all of this work teach us about transformation or about redefining ourselves?

Forrest: I think … Yeah, so from the student perspective, for example, students that's coming out of high school, maybe they're in a high school that's near their neighborhood and maybe they've only lived in that neighborhood most of their life and interacted with the same students, the same demographic, same people and then they come here and they've got classmates from Severna Park, Baltimore, DC, Prince George County, Annapolis, Glen Bernie, like from all kinds of different areas. And it can be, I think, maybe a little overwhelming and sometimes students just might stay in their shell because it can be overwhelming. And stay just with their comfort zone.

I love my classes that I teach because there's students in the developmental program from every, from all different demographics. They interact with each other and they start making friends with people and having conversations with people and caring about people who they might not have ever crossed those boundaries just because they didn't know how to.

I actually see them transform not only as individuals but in their writing because I'm privileged to read their writing. I'm able to see them just transform their, not just train of thoughts but their identities.

I had a student who, she's transferring away next semester, and where she started from and all the things that happened to her at the beginning. And just to see the fact that she came from this scared inner city DC student whose father got arrested and incarcerated, moved in with her grandmother and her grandmother passed away and then she was homeless. We were able to find her a place to live. She stayed in school. She's an A student. She made best friends on this campus and these classes through the bridge program, through SASP, and through her courses and now she's transferring back to DC as a criminal justice transfer study major. And you could just see her confidence and her re-affiliation with life just transform.

When we talk to and get to know people who are different from us, Forrest says we learn from each other’s experiences. We make lasting connections. We build trust and community. We can redefine who we are.

Which brings us back to Kevin. Let’s return to his story and hear how his new-found confidence and NERD — never ever realize defeat — philosophy has served him.

Dan: Talk to me a little more about some of the challenges you faced. So many students, it's not even the academic, it's things are happening outside of school. You've faced a few of those yourself.

Kevin: Another struggle that I faced was actually transporting to Anne Arundel Community College. I live all the way in Laurel.

Dan: That's a good distance from here.

Kevin: Yeah. Depending on traffic, it could be 30 minutes to an hour. It killed my wallet for certainty. I would take classes Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I would Uber. My Uber is … Depending on the time of day it was, it would be from $35 to $45 to go and to come back.

Dan: Wow. Three days a week.

Kevin: Yeah.

Dan: That's a lot.

Kevin: But the biggest one that I got hit with this year, it was around April where my mom just went outside and lifted her arm to raise the trunk of her car. She said that she could not put her arm back down. At that time, I didn't register. I was just like, "Oh, it just froze for a second." And then she forced it down. And then she said she went to the bathroom, and she could not pick up her arm. It was hurting. She was crying. She didn't know what to do. She was just like, "It's probably just dislocated. But later, my mom kept on, over the course of a month, still working two jobs …

Dan: Wow.

Kevin: And then she said, "I can't take the pain. I need to go see someone." She scheduled an appointment. And the doctor said that, "You tore your rotator cuff."

Dan: Ouch.

Kevin: And so my mom, she went two weeks without working. And then she had her surgery on June 12. Everything went great. We thought it was going to be uphill from there. She just had to heal.

But the issue was … She had anesthesia. Not only that, she had a nerve block. The doctor said once that block ends and everything starts wearing down, she was going to be in excruciating pain. But I was like, "My mom can take pain. Don't worry about that. She worked on that rotator cuff for a month. She can handle pain."

She got her surgery on Wednesday. Thursday night, she was crying. She literally could not take the pain. She was crying. She was like, "Why did I do this?" Questioning why she got the surgery. I started crying right next to her. I was like, "I don't know what to do."

Dan: It's hard seeing someone you love so much ... Particularly someone who, sounds like, is so strong, who really modeled for strength and perseverance, hard to see them in pain.

Kevin: When people ask who's my hero, I say my mom. The reason I say my mom is not because it's a cliché. It's because I actually think my hero is my mom. My mom was my mom and my dad for years. She still is up to this day. She has modeled for me how strong a woman can actually be.

And I was like, "This is terrible, seeing my hero ... " Basically, seeing her with kryptonite right next to her. It destroyed me fall semester. I tried to show pure happiness to everyone, tried to be normal.

Dan: So often, experiences that you're describing, we then internalize, and they become voices in our head. But you've continued to go forward and grow, and build confidence. Do you find you have those voices in your head talking to you negatively? If so, how do you keep them at bay? How do you handle that?

Kevin: Someone told me to give the voices in my head a person, "Give them literally, how you would picture them." I said that it's me. I said, "It's me. It's my own person telling me all these things."

Dan: Not like some evil dragon or something.

Kevin: No. How I picture him is basically my whole person just with red eyes and basically gray, just telling me that I can't do things.

Dan: It’s your evil twin.

Kevin: Yeah. Basically, I can't do things and that, "Look at your mom. You're doing this. You're studying. You're doing this. You should be working, helping her more." "Your mom is like this, and you're over here laughing. You're over here supporting them when you should be supporting her." I would have this constantly beating at me, and beating at me. I was just like, "I can't have this no more."

Even though it tried to hold me back, I would always try to move forward and move forward because I get it ... I call it stubbornness, that when someone tells me that I can't do things, I try to do it. Because I used to back down. When someone said I can't do things, I would be like, "You're absolutely right." But now, if someone says I can't do this, I'm like, "Watch me."

Dan: You've really developed some new perspectives and philosophies. What skills have you gained most?

Kevin: The biggest one's confidence. That's probably not a skill, but I would say, for me, that is. Technically for me, it is a skill. But I would say communication skills, leadership skills. Biggest one of all is organization skills. It just helped me develop who I am today.

Dan: It sounds like with your NERD philosophy, you have adopted a yes mentality. You don't say no to anything. So, you're really stretching yourself.

The college holds what they call a convocation where it brings all the faculty and staff together before the start of the term. At the fall term, you said yes to an invitation to speak in front of approximately what? Eight hundred or more people?

Kevin: Yes.

Dan: What was that like?

Kevin: So, that was rigorous. It was just an amazing experience, being able to speak in front of the college that you love so much and all the faculty and staff, everyone that basically helped you grow. Not was it only to basically show who I was, but it was basically showing that everyone that has helped me this way ... As well as my mom and my sister were in attendance, is basically showing everyone that, "Look who I've become." It was just an amazing experience.

[Excerpt from Convocation speech]

Kevin: I now come from a college that helped me know that community college is the start of brand new beginnings. I now come from a community college that has shown me that no matter … matter the past a brighter future will emerge. I now come from a community that not only believes in me but has made me believe in myself as well.


Dan: As I recall, you got a standing O for that. How'd that feel?

Kevin: I had to hold back tears. It was amazing.

Dan: What about Mom? She was there. Right?

Kevin: Yeah.

Dan: Did she hold back tears?

Kevin: My mom was crying. My mom, my sister, everyone that I knew was crying. I had a message … an email from my professor saying, "I'm so proud of you." It was just an amazing experience.

Dan: Fantastic. It was powerful. You did a fantastic job. Really great

Kevin: Thank you.

Dan: For convocation, you got some good coaching and support beforehand from one of your faculty.

Kevin: Yeah. Professor Forest Caskey, amazing professor, just absolutely love him. He helped me improve my reading. He was the reason a lot of the things I'm involved in now actually ... Because of him, I joined the Student Achievement Success program. He was just like, "You should join this program."

Everything, basically, he just pitches my name in, and I just say yes because I trust him, because anything that he gives me or wants me to do is basically to get my name out there, or just to improve my communication skills. With him … He's just an incredible person. I wrote a story, like basically my whole life story. The first person that I wanted ... someone to read it, it was him.

Dan: That's powerful.

Kevin: I wanted him to read it. He told me it was amazing. That's where I think he got the idea to make me talk at convocation.

Dan: So, obviously, you've changed quite a bit. How would you describe that you have redefined yourself?

Kevin: From going from a very quiet person, a shy person and someone that didn't believe in themselves at all to someone that literally has said yes to almost everything thrown at him, taking every opportunity possible and taking roles in leadership in different programs is just how I found is that I redefined myself. Just being able to be confident ability to speak, to lead is just ... I look back at it, and it still warms my heart every time I think about it.

Dan: That's great. You said every student's different. So obviously, you give different advice to different students. But do you find that you have some general advice that you offer your fellow students?

Kevin: The one piece of advice that I would always give students is that being able to find your voice takes you a long way, and sharing your story is worth it. That you never know where you might be heard or who might be listening.

Share a conversation, and you will see different perspectives. You will see that maybe what you feel is a hard time. It might be an easy time for someone else, and it makes you value what you're going through a little bit more. What I've noticed, that a simple hello can even change someone.

Never ever realize defeat.

There’s a difference between failure and defeat. It’s an important distinction, because sometimes we do fail. We miss the goal. We burn our toast. We bomb an exam. Failure doesn’t feel good, but it happens and as we’ve heard in past episodes, we often learn the greatest lessons from our losses.

Defeat is different. When we feel defeated, we’ve been beaten or overcome. We despair. It’s sometimes when we give up. So, when Kevin says NERD, you might hear don’t lose hope. Keep going. Persist with confidence.

That’s not always easy to do. Life can be hard. But it’s easier if we’re part of a supportive community — when we have people who believe in us.  We can build that safe place, even in an angry world, by nurturing our connections, listening to the experiences of others and expanding the boundaries of who and what we know.

A simple hello can be the start.


Redefine U is a production of Anne Arundel Community College.
Our executive producer and creative director is Allison Baumbusch.
Our producer is Jeremiah Prevatte and our writer, Amy Carr Willard.
Others who helped with this podcast include Angie Hamlet, Alicia Renehan, and Ben Pierce.

Special thanks to Kevin Lemus and Forrest Caskey.

Find show notes, how to subscribe and other extras on our website:

I’m your host and creator of this podcast, Dan Baum. Thanks for listening.



We're here to help.

Strategic Communications

Listen & Subscribe!

You can also find (and subscribe to) Redefine U on:
Apple Podcasts
Google Play
iHeart Radio

Like what you hear?

Leave a review on Apple Podcasts or send us your thoughts at