High school is an ideal time for students to explore their interests through clubs and extracurricular activities, which also provide ample opportunity for meeting new people and learning beyond the classroom. Kayla Maslak, who participates in NatStuCo’s Distinguished Student Leader program, approaches new ventures with enthusiasm. We caught up with her to learn about her positive attitude and her recent discovery that connections made in high school can open doors to future endeavors.
Advise: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.
I am 17 years old and a senior at Lancaster High School in Lancaster, NY, just east of Buffalo-Niagara Falls. I currently live with my mom Kari and my dad Greg, my 13-year-old brother Owen, and my 20-year-old brother Simon. One thing I really love about our family is that we eat family dinners together every night. It’s tradition. We also really like to travel. We don’t get to travel much because we’re so busy, but when we do it’s always a lot of fun. We also love to craft around our house. My dad’s a woodworker, and my mom is very creative, so the two of them together are always working on some kind of project around the house.
Advise: What do you think makes you a good leader?
My positive attitude. I’ve found that this, above everything else, has set me apart from others. I don’t mean to say that in an “I’m better than anybody else” kind of way, but a positive attitude has gotten me a lot further than I expected it to. In group settings and in personal settings, I go into a new activity thinking that I’m going to make the best of the situation and help others to do the same. If I’m working on a project with other people and I go in with a positive mentality, I can help other people jump onto that positive attitude. Then, if the group is having a hard time or the people that I’m leading are having a hard time, that positive attitude helps bring everything back into focus.
Advise: You are very involved in school activities. Why do you think that is so important?
Because it allows me to make connections with so many different types of people. A lot of the clubs I participate in are based on getting involved and connecting with different parts of the school. I’ve talked to administration, I’ve talked to faculty and staff, I’ve talked to people outside of the school. I’ve really learned a lot about different people, where they come from, what they do, and I’ve also connected with students from different backgrounds, and with different histories and interests. Getting involved in the school and seeking out new opportunities has allowed me to meet people and have a well-rounded mindset. I get to see people’s different perspectives.
Seeing different perspectives helps me because in life you’re going to meet all kinds of different people with different mindsets and different ways to approach tasks, which can present challenges. Some personalities clash, but as someone who has experience with different perspectives, I can help mediate situations, understand where everybody’s coming from, and hopefully work through the problem. It’s an important life skill to have.
Advise: What are some of the clubs and organizations you are involved with at school?
I’m involved in Leadership Academy, National Honor Society (NHS), and Student Union. We have a club called “SWISS Club” which stands for “Students Working to Improve the School Setting.” I am also a teacher’s assistant in one of our Freshman Foundations classes at the high school.
Advise: What are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned from participating in NHS?
The biggest thing I have learned is how to really get involved in my community. We have to do a lot of volunteer hours. This used to seem like a chore, but then I got involved with the Seneca Gospel Mission; we give out hot meals to people in Buffalo, NY. Since starting this work, my attitude has shifted. I have put in many more hours than I am required to because I love what I’m doing. I get to meet new people, and I get to see some things I don’t get to see every day. It has opened my eyes. NHS has provided that pathway, and it has been amazing.
Advise: Who are some of your mentors in school?
Many mentors have been my teachers, but one specifically is my leadership teacher, Mr. Mark Skowron. He has helped me not only academically, but also emotionally. He embeds a lot of life lessons within his academic lessons. What he has taught us has gone far beyond just his classroom. His lessons include the real world. It’s very real advice, and he really cares for us; he wants to see us succeed. As a class, we all see how hard he works. I see how hard he works, and I really look up to him.
Another mentor is my JV soccer coach, Tim Kronenwetter, who no longer coaches at Lancaster High School, but we have kept in touch. I got to know him my freshman year of high school. I didn’t really like him at first, but I quickly realized that he was pushing me to be the best version of myself that I could be. Recently, he reached out to check in, to see how I was doing with soccer and life. I told him I wasn’t sure about playing soccer for a college team, so he connected me with one of his former players who attends a school that I’m looking at, Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY. I never thought I would play for a college soccer team, but he motivated me. He said, “Listen; you never know. You should just reach out to [this student] and see what happens.” I reached out, we spoke, and I eventually got a call from the coach. She offered me a spot on the team. That was amazing.
Advise: What’s your favorite activity in and out of school?
In school and out of school, soccer. That’s the biggest one. But in school, I also love spending time working on projects. We do that a lot in my school, especially through Leadership Academy. Also, I really enjoy being a TA; that was a new one for me this year. It’s fun to work alongside the freshmen. It’s a good mix of learning but also teaching. Outside of school, I really love reading, and I like to travel. Every time somebody travels, I ask them to bring me back a little token so I can put it on my pin board. I have a collection of memorabilia that reminds me of the people who gave it to me.
Advise: What are your plans for the future?
I plan on attending Le Moyne College and studying biological sciences in order to become a physical therapist. I want to get my doctorate in physical therapy because I really want a career that helps people. Originally, I was open to all kinds of careers, but I really like the idea of working with people, and I like to work with my hands. I also want a challenge. I had to have physical therapy myself because of two back-to-back ankle injuries. I saw firsthand that having a good physical therapist was incredibly important in my recovery process. Physical therapy is not an easy thing for anyone to go through, so patients want any comfort that can be brought to the table when they are recovering. I really want to provide that for somebody.
Advise: What advice would you give other students for having a fulfilling high school career?
My biggest piece of advice is you never know until you try it. This is one that took me four years to learn. At the end of the day, I think every opportunity should be given a shot. The worst thing that can happen is it doesn’t work. But then, maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. It never hurts to try something new or strive for a new goal. We, as people, are a lot more capable than we think we are. So, I say go for every opportunity. See what happens.