Jenna Maida – an incredible human being who has so much to be proud of. They are non-binary, and partially deaf with anxiety and depression, yet they don’t let those facts slow them down in their incredible and inspiring involvement on and off campus.
By being able to read music since they were six on top of being involved in both choir and theatre in high school, music directing and performing became a naturally large passion of theirs. They continued to pursue their passion through joining both the co-ed a cappella group Coda Conduct as well as PSU Thespians on campus.
“Both organizations are such diverse groups of people who make you feel completely safe in who you are,” Jenna says.
Ever since joining PSU Thespians after Thanksgiving break their freshman year, Jenna has not only been in performances but taken on roles of vocal directing and producing multiple shows, as well as working on their executive board as the secretary. MasquerAIDS, a benefit concert held every year in support of the Centre County AIDS Resource Alliance, on top of the multiple shows done in support of THON and for children at local libraries are just a few of the programs Jenna is immensely proud to be a part of. PSU Thespians has two main stage productions each year, one of which Jenna recently produced.
“It was super rewarding to see around 8 weeks of work come to life and to know that a whole organization trusted me with such an important production,” says Jenna.
Jenna’s accomplishments don’t stop here with PSU Thespians either, they just got chosen with two of their close friends to represent the Thespians as a dancer in THON 2019. “THON, in my opinion, is the biggest representation of ‘We Are,’” says Jenna as they elaborate on how THON is the reason they chose to stay at Penn State after completing their first year. Ever since their first year at Penn State, they have selflessly shaved their hair for THON’s “No Hair, Don’t Care” fundraiser and continue to in lieu of a memory they made at their first THON when a Four Diamonds mother came up to them asking to rub their head. The Four Diamonds mother told Jenna about her daughter who had lost her battle with cancer and how she would often rub her daughter’s head to comfort her. “It meant a lot to the mother to know someone would shave their head in support,” Jenna says. This memory along with many others have made THON so important to Jenna.
Another program incredibly important to Jenna is Penn State’s Blind or Visually Impaired Summer Academy where they have worked for the past three summers. For a month during the summer, Jenna along with a large staff of other resident assistants live in Atherton in South Residence Halls and act as TA’s to a group of 20 to 30 high school students. They aid the students in both their courses and daily life tasks that they may not have the opportunity to learn at home, the idea being to prepare them for college or the workforce.
“It is the best job ever. The kids are so incredible and funny and it has been so emotionally rewarding. It has taught me about empathy and being a role model,” says Jenna.
Working for this incredible program also inspired Jenna’s choice of pursuing a degree in Rehabilitation and Human Services. After college they aspire to attend graduate school and get a job in a state office in a location such as Harrisburg which has a huge office and is also a large spot for disability along with many other major cities.
While they have been incredibly successful through their time at Penn State there have also been multiple areas of their life they have struggled with. VALLEY asked Jenna for their insight and advice they have for students on the topics of anxiety, depression, sexuality and disabilities.
Jenna emphasized how thankful they are for the support system in their life and while there is no single cure for anxiety or depression they believe it is all about creating a support system you can trust and rely upon. While they haven’t used Penn State resources such as CAPS Jenna suggests mantras, yoga, therapy at home and to overall know when and how to ask for help.
“Never be afraid to demand for accommodations or to ask for help,” says Jenna.
Although their school had a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club, no one in their high school was transgender or non-binary making it difficult to find people to talk to. “It was daunting to enter a space where everyone already had their roles,” says Jenna about the LGBTQ+ clubs in both high school and college. Although it was a long process they said through research on where LGBTQ communities came from, talking to the queer community and overall questioning and then exploring safely what they liked helped them through their process. Once again, Jenna emphasized how extremely important having a support system is, highlighting their friends and siblings who have been extremely helpful to them.
Luke Nosal, also known as Laurel Charleston when in drag, is one person Jenna is very thankful to know and talk to on campus. Nosal is non-binary and is very well known throughout the drag community for their fierce drag performances. Jenna draws inspiration from drag and loves the artistry of it especially since they are all unashamed to be who they are. “No matter how much time we have spent together it is nice to know I can reach out and talk to them,” says Jenna about becoming, “social media pals” with Nosal.