“I’m still human — my dreams didn’t die with my injury,” says Krista Krebs, entrepreneur, marketing director for Innoblue, and a senior at Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST).
Krebs began her journey at Penn State as a part-time disability student in the fall of 2010. Six years ago, while a high school senior, Krebs was accidentally kicked in the head while playing basketball. The accident left her with a concussion, and a chronic brain injury stemming from post-concussion symptoms.
Krebs has lived every day of the past six years with a constant headache, burrowing pain and sporadic episodes of cataplexy that can come on due to mental or physical exertion. In Krebs’ case, cataplexy manifests as the loss of motor function — such as the ability to stand or to move at all — while remaining awake, resulting in an alert mind trapped in a paralyzed body.
With determination and grit, Krebs worked through the pain, the confusion, and the loss of giving up her identity as an athlete and adapting to a new way of life, to earn her high school diploma. When it came time to make decisions about higher education, Krebs knew she would go to Penn State as planned, despite the advice of doctors who thought the environment too challenging for someone with Krebs’ injury.
“I wake up every day with the pain in my head; a lot of times, it’s difficult to want to get out of bed,” Krebs says. “But as soon as I sit up, I get out of bed, and put my feet on the floor, my passions give me purpose and the fuel to keep going, one day at a time.”
Originally hoping to study architecture, Krebs fell in love with the College of IST after her experience in the “Spend a Summer Day” program at Penn State. She loved the technology, she says, the problem solving, and “the connection between the design and the user” that working on software provided.
Krebs cites Rosalie Ocker’s IST 301 class as a pivotal moment in her college career. In IST 301, students learn to work in what are called “Partially-Distributed Teams (PDT),” meaning that part of the team is in Ocker’s class at Penn State, and their partners may be across the world, in countries ranging from Spain, to China, to Lithuania.
Krebs worked with a student from Singapore, Apoorva Tyagi, who quickly became a close friend. They bonded over American TV shows, learning each other’s culture, their love of technology, and dreams of entrepreneurship. Tyagi and Krebs would go on to co-found MangoPair this past December, which has recently launched a new app for Android called Snapview. The app allows users to “browse popular image subreddits all in one place,” according to its website, and works in combination with the popular website Reddit.com
The experience in Ocker’s class, and meeting Tyagi, led Krebs to more seriously pursue her dreams of entrepreneurship. She enrolled in Lee Erickson’s Entrepreneurship 297E class, got involved with the community for entrepreneurs at Penn State, Innoblue, and launched a startup. She credits IST Startup Week, as well, for showcasing speakers who inspired her.
After a week at Carrick Brain Center in January 2014, Krebs “felt awful physically,” she admits. “But how I felt spurred my decision to take an entrepreneurship class — I wanted to return for something that inspired me to pursue my budding passion.”
Krebs gives credit to what she calls the “amazing work of the Penn State Office for Disability Services” and the phenomenal professors she has encountered in every department at Penn State, who have worked with her to achieve her goals. “Everyone has been supportive,” Krebs says, “Everyone.”
“My injury doesn’t define me,” says Krebs. “Illness doesn’t have to ruin your life — you’d get through it, too,” she insists. “I’ve met so many people, including Apoorva, that I perhaps wouldn’t have met had my path been ‘normal’; it’s hard to imagine a different path now, and my life without the amazing people I’ve met. I may be at school longer, it may take me longer to graduate, but as a result, I am more deeply involved. I have taken every opportunity I can to make the most of my time at Penn State.”
As of now, Krebs lives with the pain and other symptoms resulting from her mild-traumatic brain injury, and the loss of her identity as an athlete, and fuels those experiences into her drive to succeed; to achieve; to do something that she feels proud of.
Krebs has a 3.99 grade-point average and a burgeoning business; heavily involved in student activities, she is on track to graduate in December 2015.
“I love being dependable,” Krebs said. “I love to learn; I love to be a good friend and family member; I love meeting new people and hearing about their lives.”
“And it was time to share my story. I wanted to feel understood. It’s part of the human condition— to want to be understood, to want to share. I was helped by others’ stories. Maybe mine can inspire someone else.”