Kiera Shae

Behavioral Science: The Degree 4 Me

While Kiera Shae was studying psychology as an undergraduate student, her letter, “Dear American Taxpayers,” sparked the interest of the nation. Initially written as a school assignment, the letter reflects on the tumultuous difficulties Shae endured throughout her young life. Her mother’s addiction to methamphetamine, food scarcity, and rampant traumatic abuse caused Shae to run away from home at fifteen years old.

Even though Shae had a profound love of reading and books, her history with formal education was challenging. No one in her biological family had finished high school, let alone gone to college. Shae herself had switched between four different elementary schools and three high schools as a result of her family’s constant migrations. Even though she still held some doubts, the support of her foster parents encouraged Shae to apply to Utah Valley University.

“They encouraged me. But, I remember rich people complaining about college, so how could I ever go?” Shae says. “I never thought in a million years that I would get a scholarship, but I did."

At first, the complexities and demands of higher education seemed impossible to surmount. But with the help and guidance of her mentor, Professor Matthew Draper, Shae discovered her passion for psychology.

“I knew she had a luminous spirit,” Draper says. “Compared to her peers, she thought deeply, she wrote well. More importantly and impressively to me was the fact that she cared about where she was, who she was with, that being at UVU mattered."

Other resources on campus, such as academic counselors and the math lab, provided essential guidance as Shae navigated her first semester. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science with an emphasis in psychology. In addition to her degree, Shae received honors and was named an outstanding graduate of her college.

“There were so many supportive people at UVU —it acted a little bit like my village in Provo where everyone came together to feed me, clothe me, and shelter me,” Shae says. “At UVU they loved me and cared for me. The small classroom sizes meant that I really got to know my professors."

Upon graduation, Shae wrote a memoir called “How the Light Gets In.” Her writing provided a deeper and shockingly intimate look at the troubled upbringing she first addressed in her “Dear American Taxpayers” letter. To help those with similar backgrounds, Shae founded her own scholarship program and shares her story through her memoir and public speaking engagements.