When Cyndi Kimball started the College of Continuing and Professional Studies (CCAPS) Sexual Health master’s program, she thought she would focus mainly on counseling and therapy. With an undergraduate degree in marriage, family, and human development, it seemed like a natural path. But as she got further into the degree, she was drawn to the amount of layers and subjects related to sexual health.
"There are so many different areas that you can study and so many different perspectives," she says. "The sexual health field incorporates specialties from a variety of fields, including medical, legal, education, psychology, sociology, media, etc. You could study epidemiology, maternal health, sex disorders—there’s just so much intersectionality."
With the flexibility of the MPS in Sexual Health curriculum, Cyndi is able to explore some of those intersecting topics by connecting with experts across the University of Minnesota.
Reaching Across Departments and Disciplines
One such topic is caregiver inclusion in sexual education. It’s an aspect that Cyndi feels is missing from general sex education taught in schools.
"In the K through 12 system, schools and parents aren't working together to educate our youth," she says. "We have a few but very verbal parents that disagree with sex education, and I think part of that is because they're afraid of what they don't know," she says. "I don't think schools are doing enough to include the parents, because that's a really important piece."
Another research area that she is diving into is compulsive sexual behavior, which she had some exposure to in a sex therapy course. She reached out to the professor who was teaching a class on the subject (HSEX 6950), Dr. Ryan Rahm-Knigge in the U of M Medical School. Her initiative paid off when he invited her to join his small research group.
"It's interesting trying to figure out what all these different professors are researching and what their little niche is and how it relates to what I'm interested in," she says. "There have been a lot of opportunities to explore all the different things that you can do in sexual health."
Tapping into University Resources
The pool of resources and benefits is vast at the University of Minnesota. Cyndi was accepted to several psychology doctorate programs but chose the U's sexual health master’s because of its relatively lower cost (master's students are eligible for financial aid) and to gain more hands-on research experience.
She recommends that students seek out different academic and personal opportunities at the U, if they can. "If you're interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion, then participate in the DEI certificate, which is free for University students, faculty, and staff. If you're interested in teaching, then look into the Preparing Future Faculty or the TAPD (Teaching Assistant and Postdoc Professional Development) courses."
She recently applied to be an OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) scholar, a CCAPS program where graduate students and postdoctoral researchers are selected to develop and teach courses in their specializations. Cyndi would teach a sexuality course geared towards older adults.
In addition, Cyndi lives on campus, even though her degree can be taken entirely online. She lives in the Como Student Community Cooperative, a residential community for student-families, married couples, domestic partners, individual graduate students, post-doctorates, and upper-level undergraduates. (It's also where we took these photos!) This allows her to be nearby for any on-campus courses, research, or events that arise.
Another unique benefit of attending the U is the chance to study abroad as a graduate student. Cyndi is headed to Amsterdam this summer with Dr. Kristen Mark, director of graduate studies for the MPS in Sexual Health, and several other students.
Cyndi's hustle and curiosity are seemingly boundless. She is also currently pursuing the Transgender and Gender Diverse Health Certificate, which is an optional certificate that can be stacked with another credential to earn the MPS in Sexual Health. (Find out more about CCAPS's stackable credentials.)
"I've realized I'm really, really passionate about education and advocacy," she says, "and I felt like I wouldn't be a very good advocate or educator if I didn't also understand the transgender and gender diverse aspects of sexuality."
"There have been a lot of opportunities to explore all the different things that you can do in sexual health."
Her goal is to eventually earn a doctorate in clinical psychology with an emphasis in sexual health and relationships of neurodivergent emerging adults. With all of these wide-ranging experiences and knowledge under her belt, she will make an exceptional candidate.
HSEX 6011: Policy in Human Sexuality with Sonya Rahders
"The class was rather intimidating at first because the legal field is so far outside my expertise, but I learned so much about how to understand sexual health policies and advocate for change."
Pro Tip for Students
"If you have a particular area of research that you're interested in, chances are there is a professor studying the same thing. They may be in the education department or psychology or social work department, nursing or medical school, public health, or youth development. Reach out and see if there are opportunities for you to research alongside them in person or remotely."
Cyndi is the recipient of the Julius Nolte-Harold Miller and Larson Legacy scholarships.