Trend: Popular e-cigarette faces pressure from FDA, restricts flavors

By Amanda Johnson

Fruit, mango and creme.

No, these are not flavors at your local ice cream store, but three of the several flavors Juul Labs, creator of the Juul device, has restricted in an effort to reduce the “juuling” of those who are under 21 years old in wake of pressure from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“It’s crazy —  (new restrictions) affect like half of the college campus,” said Trent Fry, special education sophomore at the University of Oklahoma. “Now, I’m not sure how I’m going to get these flavors.”

Juul is a popular e-cigarette device that is battery operated and works by heating a pod of e-liquid, or Juul pod, to create vapor users inhale. Unlike many other e-cigarette and vape alternatives, it’s an attractive and compact device that packs the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes into a tiny cartridge, according to its website.

Juul Labs was founded by two former smokers whose mission was to eliminate cigarettes. According to its website, Juul products are intended for adult smokers who want to make the switch from combustible cigarettes.

But according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, over 3.6 million youth are current e-cigarette users. This number is largely because of the recent popularity of Juuls, which are shaped like a USB flash drive, can be used discreetly, come in appealing flavors and have a high nicotine content.

The growing number of youth using e-cigarettes and health concerns related to nicotine has caused Juul Labs to face action from the FDA resulting in stopping the distribution of flavored pods to traditional retail outlets and only selling them through a restricted system. In addition, Juul Labs has shut down its social media platforms, only continuing to use Twitter for non-promotional communications, according to its website.

These new changes came after the FDA gave Juul Labs, as well as other e-cigarette companies, 60 days to submit a plan to help prevent youth from using e-cigarettes in September.

“Our intent was never to have youth use Juul,” said Kevin Burns, CEO of Juul Labs, in a press release Nov. 13 mapping out a plan of action with an aim to work together with the FDA to prevent youth from “initiating on nicotine.” “But intent is not enough. The numbers are what matter, and the numbers tell us underage use of e-cigarettes is a problem. We must solve it.”

Fry said he had never heard of Juul before coming to the University of Oklahoma, but within the first few weeks of school, his friends persuaded him to make the switch from the previous e-cigarette device he had used during high school.

“I had smoked other vapes, and then freshman year someone was like, ‘Here, try this Juul,’ and so I did,” Fry said. “It seemed like a better alternative to vapes mostly just because they didn’t look like as douchey.”

The slim and sleek e-cigarette is much smaller than most of its competitors, other vapes that are larger and have moving pieces, making it easier for college students to not only use but conceal.

“Juuls have this extra attractive piece — they are shaped like a flash drive, and you can conceal them easily,” said Page Dobbs, an assistant professor in the OU Department of Health and Exercise Science who specializes in research on young adult e-cigarette exposure. “I’ve had students in my class charge their Juuls in their computer.”

Dobbs, who recently conducted a study over college students using e-cigarettes that is currently under review, said she asked students for her research the reason why they used e-cigarette products. She got various answers, but one common reason stood out.

“We got answers like peer pressure, recreational, flavors and to quit smoking,” Dobbs said. “But our major finding was curiosity.”

Fry said curiosity was one of the initial factors that drew him to switch to Juul — specifically its appealing design. But in addition to its unique style, he was also drawn to its functionality that made it easy to share as well as its “cool factor.”

“Within my friend group, there’s like three Juuls between the five of us — we don’t even know whose is whose,” Fry said. “Whether people want to admit it or not, there’s definitely a cool factor to them.”

According to data collected by Nielsen, Juul makes up more than 70 percent of the U.S. e-cigarette market, but its large market share comes with a hefty price for consumers.

“They can be expensive,” Fry said. “I bought (a Juul) for $50 before, but that’s not the big price  — it’s racking up Juul pods.”

Fry said he spends on average around $40 a week on Juul pods and purchases them from The Intake, a vape store and national Juul retailer at 1000 Alameda St., where he and his friends receive student discounts.

An employee of the store, who wished to remain anonymous, said on average 400 college students come into the store a day — most of them looking for Juul products.

“People will spend $20 on one pack that only lasts them about four days,” the employee said. “Now, with (new restrictions), all pods are going up in price, and you’ll have to be 21 in order to buy anything other than mint tobacco.”

Juul Labs said it would keep mint, tobacco and menthol flavors for its devices in retail stores to prevent users from reverting to menthol cigarettes, according to its website.

But Dobbs said even though Juul is only keeping these flavors, the danger of nicotine addiction for not only youth but young adults remains present.

“I had a sorority girl come in, she had her little with her, and on her to-do list was to buy her a Juul and some pods,” the employee said. “I looked at her and said, ‘You realize you’re forcing this girl into a nicotine addiction that she’s going to have for the rest of her life?’”

Dobbs said when nicotine enters our bodies, it causes the arteries to constrict, which puts more strain on our heart. But Dobbs said since Juuls are so new, there are not as many studies as most other e-cigarette products — but they are coming out fast.

“It hasn’t yet been linked to strokes, but I don’t think it will take very long for it to be,” Dobbs said. “It has also been recently linked to lung cancer and colon cancer  — that’s all been published this year.”

Dobbs said that Juuls haven’t been proven to be a safer alternative. In fact, the device has only served as a gateway.

“Nicotine is addictive — we’ve known it since the ’50s,” Dobbs said. “(Juuls) are causing more people to start using tobacco products than it is helping people quit.”

Despite hearing warnings from friends and researching health dangers, Fry said he will still continue to use Juul against his own better judgment.

“I would say they are probably the most trending bad thing you can do right now,” Fry said. “But I think they haven’t been out long enough to find out long-term what would be bad about them — I’m sure I’ll be a case study by then.”

Story behind the story: Joe Mussatto

By Amanda Johnson

Joe Mussatto always knew he loved two things —  writing and sports. After graduating from a small high school that didn’t provide many opportunities for journalism, he attended the University of Oklahoma, and ultimately, discovered his passion for sports journalism.

Mussatto began working at The Oklahoma Daily, OU’s student newspaper, his second semester freshman year. He initially was a sports reporter covering softball but worked his way up to sports editor, and eventually, editor-in-chief his senior year. After graduating in May 2016 with a degree in journalism, he moved to Lexington, Kentucky, to work for sports website SEC Country until it shut down in June.

Today, Mussatto works as a beat writer for OU football, men’s basketball and softball at The Oklahoman the same paper he grew up reading. Although he has only been there since August, he believes, for now, it is the perfect fit for him.

Amanda Johnson: I really enjoyed your piece “OU at the forefront of psychology in college athletics.” Can you tell me a little bit about the background of this story, and how you came up with it?

Joe Mussatto: We started talking about doing a story on (Psychological Resources for OU Student-Athletes) … because I think Lincoln Riley had mentioned it earlier in the year. We knew a little bit about it, but we wanted to go into it more. Rachel Bachman at The Wall Street Journal did a thorough story on the rise of sports psychology and college athletics, and OU was a school she briefly touched on. We had this idea, and then thought, ‘OK we really need to do this because it’s like a thing, people are writing about it, and I think people are going to be interested in it.’ I think when you have a story on a national level there’s always a way to break it down a little bit on a local level to kind of go all in.

AJ: Did the writing process for this story change at all as you researched it further?

JM: The writing process changed a little bit once I did my interviews because after I talked to Cody Commander, he told me OU was, to his knowledge, the first athletic department to hire a sports psychologist. So that was kind of what I led with — the destigmatization of it and also the rise of it in college athletics. Then, I was able to go down to the nut graph of it and tell, ‘Here’s why you’re reading about this.’ It’s happening everywhere, but OU is kind of the first school that went all in on this, and they have the largest staff housed in the athletics department. I just went in from there more on a general line. But, I wanted at the beginning to be able to tell OU fans or anyone reading this locally, ‘Here’s how it affects OU.’ Once you have them hooked on that, I feel like you can go into the broader subject.

AJ: Were there any challenges you faced writing this story?

JM: Because of (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) and certain laws, OU can’t give me a list of all the players that come in and see them. So, after football practices, I would try to pull three or four guys aside after they were done in bigger interviews and ask them if they had ever gone to (Psychological Resources for OU Student-Athletes) and if they took advantage of the services. It was hard to get them to really talk about it, because I don’t know if its the stigma around mental health or just not everyone being comfortable talking about that.

AJ: How do you usually approach writing feature stories?

JM: It’s tough because there’s different themes and subjects and materials you are working with. With this story, it was more like I had all this information and wanted to get it out. It’s a feature in a sense that I’m not writing about the team necessarily or what they did on Saturday score-wise … but it’s different than sitting down and writing a profile on an athlete. I think the writing style is a little different for something like this. I’m a little more straightforward with it, and I don’t feel the need to play around with the language. With the subject I’m writing about … I would consider this piece a little more of a trend story, but I think reporting is the most important part of any feature. If you haven’t done the reporting, if you don’t have the details, if you don’t have answers to all the questions the reader might have — writing can’t make up for that. I think good reporting supplements good writing, but if you don’t have the details to begin with, no matter how flowery your language is or how creative you get, you can’t really make up for holes and things you can’t answer.

AJ: What do you hope to accomplish in your career, and where do you see yourself down the road?

JM: I think about that a lot. I don’t know if I have one specific answer, but I guess my goal is to tell good stories that people care about. Personally, I like to get away from the games, things like who the backup tight end is. That stuff is so important on a beat, and fans are crazy and want to know all that information. But, I think the goal in my career is to write stories that bridge the gap between die-hard sports fans and people who don’t really care about sports but want to read about an athlete who has an incredible story. I like writing about the people who play the sport more than the sport itself. That’s what I want to keep doing in my career, even if it’s not sports, I just like finding interesting people who do interesting things and telling their story.

AJ: Any advice for young journalists beginning their careers?

JM: The best advice is probably to say yes to anything. I think it’s pretty hard to get started in this business if you’re totally set on something in particular. Most likely, that one thing you really want, that dream job you’re imagining, unless you’re just insanely talented with an amazing amount of luck, it’s not going to happen for your first job. There’s absolutely no shame to start your career wherever and to write about whatever. Once you get in and work hard, those opportunities are going to come. You don’t know when they are going to come, where they are going to come from, but they are going to come.

New campus statue, artist’s controversial past prompts discussion within OU community

By Amanda Johnson

Near the intersection of Boyd Street and Elm Avenue, two glowing red dots pierce the night.

These red dots make up the eyes of the “Mesteño,” an 8-foot-tall mustang sculpture glaring through the glass windows of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.

“It wasn’t what people expected when you think of a sculpture of a horse,” said Hadley Jerman, Eugene B. Adkins curator at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. “I think people thought the red eyes were kind of frightening.”

Jerman was a freshman at the University of Oklahoma when the statue was unveiled on the corner of Boyd Street and Elm Avenue in 1998 before it was moved to its current home in the museum. She remembers the controversial response it garnered from students on campus.

“I remember for almost an entire year it was receiving commentary in the paper,” Jerman said.” I also remember thinking it was really kind of exciting, though, because there was this discussion about art on campus for a long time.”

OU’s newest public artwork, “Covered Wagon,” has evoked discussions similar to the ones that took place 20 years ago, but it also has raised new questions, too.

Created by artist Tom Otterness, the statue depicts a covered wagon being pulled by an ox, with a pioneer woman driving and her two children fighting in the back. The nontraditional style and its placement on campus, along with the artist’s history, has stirred debate among the OU community.


Buddy Wiedemann, Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication director of information technology, said he finds the statue not only hideous but also offensive.

“You take something from a very controversial artist that looks like a cartoon of the land run, which was very offensive to a lot of Native Americans in this part of the country,” Wiedemann said. “Why would you ever put something that has that kind of stuff attached to it in a public space?”

Public discourse has extended beyond the artwork itself and has found its way to the “Covered Wagon” artist’s past.

In 1977, Otterness adopted a dog from an animal shelter, tied it to a fence and shot it. He recorded a video of the shooting, titled “Shot Dog Film,” and played it on a continuous loop during a gallery show.

Otterness’ controversial past led to repercussions in 2011, when the San Francisco Arts Commission, after a community uproar, voted to terminate a $750,000 contract with Otterness that would have had the artist decorate a subway station with sculptures, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

“It’s very clear to me that it’s a completely indefensible act to take a life in the service of any idea or work,” Otterness said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in 2011. “I think the work that I’ve done in 30 years since that really is a counterbalance to that one action. I deeply regret it.”

But Wiedemann said it’s not about forgiveness — he doesn’t even want to think about Otterness’ artwork.

“I don’t care how old he was or how many times he apologizes,” Wiedemann said. “(His actions against the dog) are all I think about when I see it, and I don’t ever want to see any of his work.”

Actions have been taken in response to Otterness’ past, which includes a petition started by an OU student calling for the statue’s removal, and the placement of a T-shirt on the statue with the words “I shoot dogs.”

OU officials have not commented on the petition, which had more than 3,400 signatures as of 3 p.m. Nov. 6., and the T-shirt was removed by morning after it was spotted on the evening of Oct. 30.

“I’m so glad that petition went up,” Wiedemann said. “I’ll do anything I can to get (‘Covered Wagon’) out of here — I think it’s horrible.”


Located outside the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication and across from the Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, the statue’s presence is unavoidable to many students passing by on their way to class.

“I don’t really like the statue at all if we are being honest,” said Skyla Parker, public relations junior and Gaylord College Ambassador. “I understand art is objective — some people like it, some don’t — but I think it should go with the decor or the whole structure of Gaylord. It fits nowhere where it is right now.”

Mark White, director of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, said Otterness’ style is drawn from 1920s animation, and the piece is a way to make light of ideas and concepts commonly found in culture.

“‘Covered Wagon’ is kind of a satire of the whole pioneer mythos — but also, and more particularly, the pioneer monuments of the early 20th century,” White said. “Those monuments were a celebration of the pioneer monuments and westward expansion, but all of those ideas have come under a lot of scrutiny, especially in the last 20 to 30 years.”

Donor and 1957 OU graduate William Obering, who had previously given Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” to campus, wanted to enhance OU’s art collection and the public spaces on campus, according to the Oct. 24 OU Board of Regents agenda.

“(Obering) wasn’t interested in giving something to campus that necessarily everybody would love,” White said. “He understands, as do many, that public sculptures are not just about beautifying space, but it’s also about encouraging public discourse.”

Since the arrival of “Covered Wagon,” discourse has run rampant.

Daren Kendall, OU’s School of Visual Arts assistant professor of sculpture, said this discussion is positive, and art should challenge ideas, bring awareness and give different points of view.

“When there’s a very common or conventional view, artists are there to kind of say, ‘Let’s take a look at what we are really thinking and really believe — let’s have a conversation about it,’” Kendall said. “I’m not so sure there’s much conversation happening around bronze football players and even some of the sculptures that might be considered romantic.”


The installation of “Covered Wagon” on campus has created questions about the process of how OU chooses its public art and who is making decisions.

White said donors approach the museum with pieces of artwork they want to see on campus, and each piece must meet a list of criteria, such as the significance of the artist and their track record of sales, to determine if it would be fit for campus.

“Ultimately, we kind of weigh it against all the criteria, and if it is something that the museum feels very strongly about, then that’s when we would advance it to the upper administration,” White said.

The previous administration, headed by former OU President David Boren, who focused heavily on the beautification of campus, approved the donation and selected the location of “Covered Wagon,” White said.

The current selection process for OU’s public artwork has left faculty and students wondering if there is a better way.

Kendall said when a donor wants to place artwork on campus, the conversations and people surrounding it are very important.

“There has to be a critical discourse, there has to be a dialogue, there has to be not just one person deciding,” Kendall said. “We like to be comfortable, and we like to feel good, but if that’s all that art does, then I think we are kind of missing the point.”

Wiedemann said there should be a committee, made up of various people from different branches of the university, that decides what goes where on campus.

“I’m not saying the whole university should get to vote on it, but there should be some oversight,” Wiedemann said. “There was obviously no oversight on (‘Covered Wagon’), or it never would have gone up — there was none.”

Parker said students should also be involved in the decision-making process.

“I definitely think there should be student representatives deciding about the art,” Parker said. “However, I appreciate that OU has places for art to be shown around campus — that’s something really unique.”

OU President James Gallogly now has the opportunity to leave his own legacy of public artwork on campus, but amid budget cuts, it remains unclear how he will approach overseeing OU’s public artwork, which was abundant under his predecessor.

Despite uncertainties, Jerman encourages the OU community to keep an open mind.

“I encourage people anytime you see art that your initial response is, ‘I don’t like that,’ or, ‘I don’t understand that,’ to just try to find out more about it,” Jerman said.

Jerman now smiles standing next to “Mesteño,” looking up at the glowing red eyes that once frightened so many.

“I think this is now one of the most beloved pieces in the museum,” Jerman said.









Teresa Turner: Helper, trailblazer and Sooner

By Amanda Johnson

Stepping into Teresa Turner’s office on the second floor of the Prentice Gautt Academic Center at the University of Oklahoma, an array of Sooner memorabilia, old newspaper clippings of her and family member’s athletic achievements and several commemorable plaques fill the place where student-athletes come knocking.

“She’s a beam of sunshine,” said Roy Williams, former OU All-American safety, five-time NFL Pro Bowler and Sooner legend known as “Superman.” “Every time I see Teresa she has a smile on her face — she’s happy-go-lucky, and it’s contagious.”

Williams walked into Teresa Turner’s office for the first time in 1998. She was his adviser, helping him navigate the academic and athletic challenges he faced over his three years at OU before entering the NFL Draft.

But for Teresa Turner, helping guide student-athletes through their time at OU is more than a job description  — it is a passion fueled by the desire to see them succeed, both in the present and future.

“She will give anyone the shirt off her back,” Williams said. “She wants everybody to be successful in life.”

Beyond assisting in the success of student-athletes in the classroom and on the field, Teresa Turner wants them to know her door is always open.

“Anytime (a student-athlete) needs something, she is there — they can come in and talk to her about anything,” said Ann Deal, an administrative assistant in OU’s Prentice Gautt Academic Center who has worked with Teresa Turner since 1994. “She is a wealth of knowledge and has wonderful advice — she is always willing to help any way she can.”

‘One of the first’

Teresa Turner has always had an innate desire to help others. Growing up as the second youngest of six siblings, she would often use this gift to find ways to complete tasks that seemed impossible.

“I was in Girl Scouts, and she helped me sell 100 boxes of cookies so I could go to camp,” said Bernice Ray, Teresa Turner’s youngest sibling. “I’d have never accomplished that if it wasn’t for her.”

Beyond the joy Teresa Turner receives helping others, she relishes the challenge it entails.

“She likes challenges, whether it’s something super difficult or whether it’s helping somebody or something very far-fetched, like, ‘Hey, I need this green umbrella that has one black spot on it,’” said Chelsea Turner, Teresa Turner’s youngest daughter. “I mean, she is going to find a way to find that somewhere.”

In 1976, Teresa Turner faced a difficult challenge moving from South Carolina to Norman, Oklahoma, her junior year of high school when her brother, former OU basketball star Clifford Ray, bought her parents a house after making it to the NBA. But despite the transition, she excelled on the basketball court at Norman High School, while also balancing academics and a full-time job at Dunkin’ Donuts.

Teresa Turner followed her brother’s footsteps to play basketball at OU in 1978 but forged her own path —  becoming one of the first two women to earn an athletic scholarship at OU.

Chelsea Turner said this historic achievement was something she was always very proud her mom was a part of, as she became a trailblazer for so many others.

“Being one of the first —  that’s huge,” Chelsea Turner said. “It helps you think about not taking things for granted and realize what steps have been taken to be where we are now.”

Today, the term “Sooner family” holds a more extensive meaning to Teresa Turner than most.

Teresa Turner is married to former Sooner nose tackle Richard Turner, who went on to play in the NFL for four years, and they have three children. Her son received his bachelor’s and master’s degree from OU, while her two daughters played college basketball at other schools, eventually coming to OU for their master’s degrees.

But beyond her family’s athletic and academic success was a foundation of hard work.

“My family has not just an athletic background, but just a good work ethic that has been taught to us throughout the years,” Teresa Turner said.

Teresa Turner credits not only the work ethic instilled in her from an early age by her parents as a driving factor in the success she has had both as a student-athlete and in her career, but the impact OU has made on her, and her family’s life, as the years go by.

“OU has always been good to me and my family, and it’s been fun to be a part of it for so many years,” Teresa Turner said. “When you’ve lived in Norman, you’ve always been near it — it’s just kind of a part of you.”

 ‘Mother Teresa of the University of Oklahoma’

Once Teresa Tuner got to OU, it seems as if she’s never left.

Teresa Turner completed her undergraduate degree in psychology as a student-athlete, and her passion for helping others achieve their goals led her to pursue a career in higher education. After receiving her master’s degree in education and counseling from OU, she began working as an adviser, first in the College of Arts and Sciences, and then in the athletic department beginning in 1990 — helping student-athletes navigate the challenge of balancing academics and athletics.

“I knew that I could connect with our student-athletes because I knew what it took to balance the demand of academic and athletic commitments,” Teresa Tuner said.

Teresa Turner’s experience as a student-athlete and her passion for helping others created the ultimate combination for her sustained success as an adviser for 25 years. But in 2015, her ambitious spirit was ready for a new challenge.

In her role as the director of the student-athlete experience, Teresa Turner now assists in overcoming many of the common challenges student-athletes face at OU, as well as preparing them for life after athletics. Skills such as resume building and interview techniques are taught regularly, emphasizing the importance of planning for the future.

But most of all, Teresa Turner’s primary goal in her new role at OU is to help student-athletes always feel connected to the Sooner family.

“We want our student-athletes to feel like when they leave here they are always a part of the Sooner family and that they can always come back,” Teresa Turner said.

In 2017, Williams decided it was time to come back and finish his degree.

Williams said it was Teresa Turner who advised him for the second time, helping him enroll in the classes he needed and being there every step of the way of his 15-year journey to complete his degree.

Although her role has changed, Williams finds Teresa Turner remains the same.

“She hasn’t changed one bit,” Williams said. “She’s always loved the university, loved student-athletes and loved people — she is the Mother Teresa of the University of Oklahoma.”

Q&A: Kelci McKendrick by Amanda Johnson

The transition to college for many high school students is a difficult one. But for students coming from a small town and high school — the transition proves to be a bigger challenge than most.

Growing up in McAlester, Oklahoma, Kelci McKendrick was shaped by the only town she had ever called home. But the adjustment of moving to a new town over six times bigger than her hometown and attending a college over 688 times bigger than her graduating high school class was more difficult than she expected.

Today, McKendrick reflects back on her experiences, appreciating the growth that shapes her future.

Amanda Johnson: Where did you grow up?

Kelci McKendrick: I grew up in McAlester, Oklahoma, which is two hours east of Norman. The population is 20,000, and I actually went to high school about 15 miles away from McAlester in a town called Crowder.

AJ: Tell me more about your hometown.

KM: I spent 18 years living in McAlester, like the outskirts, inside — kind of a little bit of everywhere. We had one Walmart, which was like the closest Walmart within an hour each direction. So moving up (to Norman) where there are four Walmart’s that are within 15 minutes of each other is kind of baffling, because I used to have to drive 30 minutes to get to the closest Walmart when I lived in the outskirts of McAlester.

AJ: How did living in a small town shape your high school experience?

KM: I graduated with 38 people in my class, which was the biggest it’s been in five years. I had to drive there every day, and I knew where all the cops in McAlester hid, so I knew when to slow down and when to speed back up to my usual 15 miles over the speed limit. I had my birthday parties growing up in McAlester at McDonald’s… We had one bowling alley, which I used to go to a lot, but there’s not really a bunch to do growing up there. My friends and I would usually just drive around and maybe go to Walmart to hang out or get food.

AJ: After high school, did you always plan on coming to the University of Oklahoma?

KM: Yes, I always wanted to go to OU. Ever since fourth grade when I started watching football games with my parents, I would always be like, ‘I’m going to go there one day, and I’m going to be a nurse, or I’m going to be a teacher,’ and then, I eventually settled on journalism. But, I wasn’t quite prepared for the shock of moving to Norman from McAlester, especially from high school, because I graduated with 38 people in my class and now there’s like over 4,000 juniors, and I probably know 50 or 100 (people) in my class — which is a lot more than I did in high school.

AJ: How was the transition coming to the University of Oklahoma from such a small town and high school?

KM: The transition was kind of difficult. In McAlester there’s not a lot of traffic, so when I moved up here to Norman for school, I had to learn how to cut people off… Just the amount of people walking around everywhere was weird… At first, I was always lost because there was a sea of people, and I wasn’t used to it at all. During the first couple weeks of classes, I had really bad anxiety about just trying to get to the library because there were way too many people for me. I got used to it though — I learned how to drive properly in Norman, bulldoze through crowds of people, and just kind of go and not be bothered by the amount of people. I really just learned how to embrace it… It was scary at first, but I’m really grateful I actually moved up here, and I get to go to OU.

AJ: How was the transition academically?

KM: College is not at all like high school, and I feel like high school didn’t really prepare me… because it was a smaller high school and not a lot of AP classes were offered. I wasn’t necessarily prepared for everything that was going to come — it was like a big wave, and my back was turned the other way. All throughout high school, I had all A’s up until I got a B in biology… and I was bummed about it but that’s what made me realize that grades aren’t super important. I strive for A’s, but sometimes, I’ll fall short and get a B. I put a lot of pressure on myself when I was first applying to OU, and I was like, ‘There are so many smart people, I have to get this on the ACT, and I have to do all this stuff to prepare.’ I was valedictorian of my class, and I got (to OU), and my first semester I got three B’s and one A… I was distraught and thought, ‘Oh man, I’m really slacking,’ but I’m doing the best that I can.

AJ: In what ways has your town shaped you into who you are today?

KM: McAlester shaped me in the way that it prepared me in the best way it could. It was small, and I learned how to make the best out of anything I could. I took the little things and made them important and fun.

AJ: Do you see yourself moving back to McAlester after graduation?

KM: Oh no, not at all. After I graduate, I don’t want to go back to McAlester just because it’s such a small town… I loved growing up there, but there is so much more the world has to offer. Maybe when I get older, and I start to have kids… I might go back because that’s where my mom is, and I might need her help. But no, I don’t want to live in McAlester (after graduation). I think that actually if I would have stayed in McAlester after I graduated high school and gone to (college) there, I probably would have gotten pregnant or married or something. That’s just kind of the vibe I got from McAlester… So, no, I don’t want to go back and live there (after graduation) — there’s so much more than just McAlester.