From grief to glory: Georgia Southern graduate sets sights on joining U.S. Space Force
Kelly Entrekin’s college experience began like many others, but took a tragic turn that could have prevented her from finishing.
Her story began at Georgia Southern when she earned a place in the Honors College and soon found work participating in hands-on research.
“I was able to work as a student research assistant in the IT department,” Entrekin said. “While I was there, I was able to create an augmented and virtual reality phone application that I completed during my freshman year. I don’t know how I did it, but I learned so much and had a lot of encouragement from the professor and graduate student I was working with.”
After her position with the IT department ended, she sought out another research position. The work she began during her second research assistantship blossomed into her honors thesis.
“As a research assistant with the computer science department, I worked on research for fine particulate matter values and creating simple graphical user interfaces,” Entrekin said. “I loved that research so much that I continued it after my position ended and further developed it into my honors thesis.”
Entrekin was enjoying her third year of college when her world stopped. Her best friend, Emily Dixon, who was set to graduate from Georgia Southern in fall 2021, died in a car accident just days before commencement.
Unsure of how to move forward, Entrekin sought assistance from the Counseling Center at Georgia Southern. It was there that she found the resources she needed to stay on track.
“I reached out to the Counseling Center and found one of the greatest therapists ever,” Entrekin said. “He has been so supportive along my journey and genuinely cared. He did everything to make me feel like I had someone I could trust and that was one of the biggest things that kept me going.”
Entrekin’s therapist encouraged her to continue participating in activities that brought her joy and to refrain from isolating herself after the loss. Despite having to move away from campus and friends to complete a co-op with Gulfstream Aerospace, she heeded her therapist’s advice and continued to find ways to connect.
“We had a close group of friends that would go to baseball games,” Entrekin said. “After it happened, I would travel back to Statesboro for games on weekends and I kept in touch with people here. Looking back now, I see that I just kept living and I kept showing up even when it seemed impossible. I didn’t even realize how much that was really helping me.”
Entrekin’s roommate, Barrett Ford, also helped her push through the challenges that came with sudden loss.
“Barrett helped pick me up,” Entrekin said. “He reminded me every single day what my purpose was, why I was still here and why I needed to continue. He’s been one of the greatest support systems I’ve ever had, not only in my personal life but professionally as well.”
The ups and downs of Entrekin’s college journey have led her to a new way of making decisions.
“There are so many small moments I enjoyed here,” Entrekin said. “If I could give incoming students one piece of advice, it would be to live the life you want. Whatever college looks like for you, hanging out with friends or just focusing on your work, choose what is going to make you happy and live that. Too many times I, and people around me, have found ourselves not doing the things we wanted, but I’ve learned that life is too short for that. Discover what you really want in your core, live that life and don’t think twice about it.”
Now set to graduate on May 11, Entrekin will cross the stage at Allen E. Paulson Stadium with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Computing. After commencement, Entrekin hopes to join the United States Space Force.
“I’m excited to work with advanced technology, but not only that,” Entrekin said. “I’m excited that I’ll get to work on a team. I will have people around me who I can teach and who I can learn from, people I can lead but who can also help me. In making this decision, I looked at the people in my life who had joined the military and how much they loved what they do. They all had similar values to me in wanting to help other people and wanting to continue to grow and learn themselves. The core values just lined up and I knew this was where I wanted to be next.”
Her time at Georgia Southern left a permanent mark on Entrekin. The experiences she had, connections she made and lessons she learned are each something she will carry with her as she moves forward into the next stage of her life.
“I went through such a grieving process losing someone at 21 years old and still trying to graduate in four years,” Entrekin said. “It blows my mind that I went through losing the person I trusted with everything in life, the person I was closest to, who picked me up on my worst days, and I still made it here. I’m ready to step into this next chapter, and to see my friends succeed as they step into theirs too.”