Laura Jensen’s interest in psychology has had practical applications since she began studying at Bethel College – which resulted in her being named Kansas Member of the Year by an advocacy organization.

Jensen, a junior from Everest, received the honor at the annual meeting of the Kansas chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, at Fort Hays State University.

Jensen came to Bethel as a freshman in 2011 knowing she was interested in psychology. That has only strengthened as she moves into her third year.

As a freshman, she was also a Service-Learning Scholarship awardee. Marla Krell, Bethel’s director of experiential learning, places Service-Learning Scholarship recipients and tries to find non-profit organizations that align with students’ interests.

In Jensen’s case, Krell decided to connect her with a person rather than an institution – Newton resident Florene Wiens, an active member of the NAMI Mid-Kansas chapter. Wiens’ long history of advocacy for the mentally ill stems from her experience with a close family member.

When Jensen began meeting with Wiens, Bethel Professor of Psychology Paul Lewis “brought up the idea of starting a NAMI chapter at Bethel,” Jensen says. With Wiens’ help, Jensen organized the campus chapter starting in the 2012-13 school year. She served as president both last year and this year.

“NAMI is a grassroots organization that is there to spread the word about mental illness,” Jensen says. It is a support group for family, work associates, friends and acquaintances of those with mental illness

In Bethel’s NAMI group, “we try to bring up mental-health issues that apply to college-age students,” Jensen continues. “This is a time when a lot of mental illnesses can come about, when students are under stress.”

Some of the group’s activities in 2012-13 were bringing speakers to campus from local mental health-care providers such as Prairie View and Health Ministries “to start conversations about mental illness,” Jensen says. “In spring 2013, we had a convo speaker through a program called ‘In Our Own Voice’ that NAMI supports, where people come and tell their stories.”

So far this year, the focus has been on recruiting new members. “The thing about campus clubs is that people graduate, and we had about seven graduate last year,” Jensen says.