Kaia Renouf, College of Liberal Arts

Kaia Renouf 300When Kaia Renouf looks back at her struggles in high school, it makes her even more thankful for where she is now.

The California native grappled with substance abuse as a teen, but has now been clean for 11 years. She is graduating from CSU with a degree in anthropology after a college career marked by service, academic excellence and museum fieldwork.

But hers hasn’t been a traditional path. She switched high schools when she decided to change her life. After graduating she spent five years in Portland, where she met her partner and soon-to-be wife, Asha Renouf.

“We moved to Colorado because we were ready for an adventure, and there were things here we wanted, like mountains and no one we knew,” Kaia says.

She got her associate’s degree at Front Range Community College. One of her FRCC instructors, Keri Canada, became a mentor — and the two ended up at CSU: Canada as an anthropology faculty member, Renouf as one of her students.

“She an incredible person and a wonderful teacher,” Renouf says of Canada. “We’ve become friends.”

Canada is just as effusive about her student.

“Kaia is absolutely amazing, and her story is really inspiring,” she says. “She is easily in the top 5 percent of all students I’ve ever worked with, and she’s an asset to not only the Anthropology Department but to CSU as a whole.”

In addition to being in the Honors Program, Renouf volunteers at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, doing lab and field work. She created her own exhibit on Peace Corps volunteers at the Global Village Museum of Arts and Cultures in Fort Collins, and completed the anthropology department’s paleontology field school in Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin. Her Honors thesis focused on Coryphodon, a hippo-like mammal that went extinct for reasons that are still unknown. In addition to those activities, last fall she served as a mentor to at-risk youth in Campus Connections, formerly known as Campus Corps.

“If I had to go back and do one thing differently, it would be to get involved in Campus Connections earlier,” Renouf says. “It reinforced my belief that teenagers are the group I want to work with.”

Her dream job? Running a museum outreach program for at-risk youth.

“I think community involvement is a fundamental piece of keeping kids out of trouble,” Renouf says. “There wasn’t a whole lot to do in my hometown, and kids are going to come up with something to do. Having positive activities that treat them as adults is really important and undervalued.”

And her objectives extend to educating adults as well.

“I think a lot of problems in our society around how we perceive the world stem from misunderstandings of evolutionary biology,” she says. “Teaching people about that in nonthreatening ways is a fundamental challenge of being a scientist right now.”