October is National Disability Employee Awareness Month (NDEAM), and this holds deep personal significance for Kris. She knows that individuals with disabilities and medical conditions are not always given the compassion and patience they deserve. She recounts one memory involving her daughter at the grocery store where her daughter began to have a seizure and, instead of reacting to help, people started yelling at her for causing a delay in the checkout line.
Kris Hansen’s life has not been without hardship, but instead of letting it break her spirit, she’s allowed it to inspire her to show compassion to others. Kris has seen how callousness and apathy can make a difficult situation even more painful for the person going through it. Fortunately, she has also seen firsthand how a kind word or listening ear can leave a lasting positive impact on someone’s life.
As an Enrollment Counselor, Kris spends her workdays guiding WGU students toward their degrees and careers. For six years, she has helped students prepare for meaningful, exciting academic journeys at WGU.
Before her employment at WGU, Kris was a high school teacher. She was also in the process of enrolling at WGU as a student. One evening, Kris’s daughter had a major seizure. Kris was in the middle of dialing 911 when a WGU Enrollment Counselor called. The timing couldn’t have been worse. She recounts, “I yelled at my counselor and told him I didn’t have time for this and hung up on him.”
The next day, the Enrollment Counselor called again. He wasn’t calling to talk about her enrollment at WGU or confront her about being hung up on. “He didn’t ask me anything at all about me going to school. It was just ‘I’m concerned about you.’” Kris says it was at that moment that she realized that the WGU Enrollment Counselor sincerely cared about her and her family. As she puts it, “I wasn’t just a number on a page.” Soon after this experience, Kris inquired about employment at WGU and was hired as an Enrollment Counselor a month later.
Millions of Americans live with disabilities and hardships that can be both visible and invisible. As Kris says, “Anyone can feel excluded. Anyone can feel discriminated against. It is [about] helping people with what they need one by one.” Extending compassion and empathy to others on a daily basis not only enriches their lives, but also helps you grow and discover new avenues of understanding.
Kris remembers a uniquely impactful conversation she had with a prospective WGU student after the death of her daughter. “I had an interaction with a student who had recently lost a close family member. I feel like we were supposed to talk and help each other. I usually don’t talk about my personal story. But somehow, this student and I were connected. It is our one-by-one that made a difference to her.”
Kris loves attending Employee Resource Groups (ERG) and even helped create WGU’s Disability Owls. The Disability Owls ERG aims to create an inclusive, supportive environment for WGU employees who identify as neurodiverse or have a disability. She explains, “I believe when we talk together, we can understand each other so much more. We can support each other and provide inclusion for everyone. Each of us can be involved in some way. If you don’t feel like you fit in that group, just go listen. You will be surprised at what you will learn from others.”