“I always wanted to help and impact people,” senior Sylvia Brand said. “I think it took me two years to realize that while I loved art, I wasn’t passionate about it. I was passionate about helping.”
Brand, a psychology major, art minor, Green Dot certified, residential assistant (RA) in Millikan Hall, says she has always been laser focused on helping others in any way she can manage. Making selflessness a focal point in her life wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision though, as it mostly comes naturally to Brand.
The part of her efforts to make a change that don’t come naturally stem from learning from past experiences.
These experiences Brand speaks about mostly stem from events that took place during her college life. She says because of these experiences, she doesn’t care if she only impacts one person, because she is all too familiar with the ripple effects one person can make.
When thinking back on the most difficult one of these experiences, Brand can only think of one word: Alex.
“It was my freshmen year, just a regular Wednesday,” Brand said. “I was heading down to say goodnight to my sister Morgan, but instead of her opening the door when I knocked, it was Officer Staples, Officer Merrill and the hall director. Morgan was there crying too, and they told me that there had been an accident.”
At this point, Brand had begun to assume something had happened to another one of the residents who had been living on the floor. As she began to ask the room full of police officers and her sister questions, Officer Merrill stepped in and explained the accident was back home, not at school.
“Then Morgan told me that our brother Alex was dead and that he had killed himself,” Brand said. “My world stopped. This was the kid who was smiley and happy-go-lucky. He had been my best friend for most of my life. All I could think was ‘No, no. Not our Alex. That couldn’t happen.’”
It was at this point Brand learned her sister, Zoe, was the one who found her brother, and their parents had been away from home when everything happened. Her parents had been on their way to stop by Northwest, say hi to their two daughters, drop off some food and be on their way.
“After they got there we immediately drove home, speeding the entire time,” Brand said. “There are parts of that night that will never leave me. Hearing the sound of my mother finding out, standing in the driveway sobbing. I remember just feeling numb.”
As traumatic as the loss of her brother had been at the time, Brand says his passing brought things she had never expected. She says she had never been to many funerals, but always associated them with being sad, down times. However, her brother’s funeral turned into a worship service of sorts, offering a surprising amount of positivity.
Within the next year, Brand would go on to secure her position as an RA in Millikan Hall, an event she refers to as somewhat of a turning point of positivity.
“I was originally an alternate, and I was devastated,” Brand said. “But on July 28,I got a voicemail saying they wanted me to join their team. I still have the voicemail saved because it was this huge turning point in my life.”
Senior Breanna Kass, a biology: biomedical sciences major and RA at Perrin Hall, is quick to hold up claims supporting Sylvia’s caring nature.
“I admire Sylvia’s compassion for others,” Kass said. “No matter what it may be or who it is, she will always be there to listen when you need someone to talk to. She is so encouraging and supportive, I know that whenever I need a friend to talk to, she’ll be there.”
Brand says she recognizes her time as an RA has given her annual opportunities to make impact after impact on new students for the past three years. This position also gives her an even greater feeling of home away from home thanks to the new friendships she has been able to make at Northwest. Brand is from St. Joseph and she had family attend Northwest before, but now in her senior year of college, she has found a family of her own.
Junior Tristan Smith, criminology major with an emphasis on adult systems and assistant complex director for Forest Village Apartments, says Sylvia has always been there for him, and as a result, she is one of his best friends. He says anyone who doesn’t know Sylvia should take the chance to talk with her if the opportunity arises.
“We met in 2015, when I was a freshman in Millikan Hall where she was an RA. She was always asking everyone how their day was, and starting conversation with anyone,” Smith said. “We became friends when she saw me leaving the residence hall really late one night because of an emergency and gave me her number and ‘ordered’ me to tell her when I got home. We have been friends ever since.”
This is just one example of Brand’s selflessness expressed through reaching out to others.
It was not until after Alex’s passing when Sylvia found her interest in psychology growing while the interest in her previous major, graphic design, subsided. Brand and her family had discovered Alex had almost every symptom of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) from his years of high school football. This discovery and the nature of Alex’s death helped steer Brand toward a direction of aiding those with mental health issues, in hopes of making a difference in any way she can.
Now in the last leg of her undergraduate college career, Brand plans on moving closer to the coast in order to expand her knowledge of psychology to greater lengths than she could have dreamed.
“Midwest life is great, but when it comes to psychology, it is something we are just now starting to accept and believe,” Brand said. “It has just been frowned upon. On the coast, it is more accepted.”
The need to escape the roots of home is a feeling that lies in many who have lived in one place most of their lives. Brand, on the other hand, is taking a different approach to leaving home for the coast. She says the time she hopes to spend away from home will only serve as time to learn, so that she can return with her newfound knowledge.
“The end goal is to come back to the Midwest and practice in the Midwest just because I know it’s an area where psychology is needed,” Brand said. “Experiencing what I’ve experienced, especially when it comes to mental health, I know how much it’s needed here. But it’s going to take someone from here to make a difference.”
Brand knows there is desparate need for psychology in the midwest because of what she went through with her brother.
“Alex pushed my need to help others,” Brand said. “I think it took him to make me realize that if I can make a difference in one person, then in a roundabout way, Alex is making a difference in someone’s life too.”
Brand says Alex and what she went through her senior year has made her a better person and RA.
In any way she can, Brand is sure to impact anyone she comes across in the future. There is little doubt that while she goes on to inform and educate the Midwest on psychology and mental health, Alex will be there every step of the way.