Alum Speaker Series: Tera Kull ’03 Helps Support Pediatric Cancer Patients and Their Families

Tera Kull ’03 is no stranger to the lemonade-from-lemons process. Kull, who has a long track record of turning challenges into opportunities, shared her story on Tuesday, February 6, at this year’s inaugural Alum Speaker Series event. The lunchtime event showcases the efforts and accomplishments of Rivers graduates who are actively engaged in their communities and working to uplift social justice values.

“The series has a goal of building bridges between students and alums that are centered around community and civic engagement,” said Lucas Malo, director of community engagement; the series is a joint effort between his office and the alumni engagement office. “Through dialogue, students and colleagues alike can connect to fields or causes that they are passionate about. The series intentionally recruits alums with diverse perspectives and professional backgrounds to illustrate how the values of Rivers can be integrated into a range of  roles and community programs.” This year, two more alums are scheduled to speak: Evan Coleman ’05 on March 5 and Chrismary Gonzales ’18 on April 30. Students interested in attending can sign up here. 

On Tuesday, before a group of students and professional community members in Hutton Hall, Kull described her professional journey to her role as director of talent acquisition for Assurance IQ, following stints at Microsoft and Redfin. When COVID emptied the Assurance offices, her team took the lead on “how to cultivate connection,” enticing colleagues back to the office by making it “magnetic, not mandated.” COVID also necessitated another professional pivot: A design firm she launched in 2018 fell victim to the pandemic. 

Her career trajectory has taken some unexpected turns, she said, but her “decisioning” has long been guided by four factors: Clear priorities, personal alignment, interesting challenges, and “the deal is good.” (That last one, she explained, means that the parameters of the job or project allow for flexibility and accommodation—a work-life balance.) So, when faced with one of life’s hardest challenges, it’s no surprise she met it with her customary aplomb. 

As Kull told it, she and her family were blindsided when her brother received a late-night phone call shortly after his two-year-old son’s checkup. The toddler was very ill and had to be brought to the hospital immediately; the diagnosis was a rare form of leukemia. Thus the family’s lives were divided into two phases, Before Cancer and After Cancer. 

Among other things, it inspired Kull to add one more factor to the decisioning list: Make meaning. She is now president of the Nicholas Richard Collins Superhero Foundation, named for her late nephew, who passed away in 2022 at the age of two. She splits her time between her job at Assurance and her work with the foundation. The foundation raises money, through an annual golf tournament and other activities, to support children and families facing a diagnosis of AML leukemia. 

Much of the focus is on the siblings of young cancer patients, whose needs sometimes go unmet as a family grapples with caring for a sick child. The foundation provides services for these children, who may find themselves in a “no-man’s land” when it comes to bereavement support. 

“The foundation is still in its infancy,” Kull told the group assembled at Tuesday’s lunch meeting. In launching it, she was thrust into the world of figuring out how to launch a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, but she threw herself into the work, and the first golf tourney, held last year, raised $100,000. She said she is committed to providing that amount to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, with whom the foundation partners, each year on June 1, young Nicholas’s birthday.

“Her work on the foundation is inspiring and has been so impactful in a very short time,” said Janet McKeeney, director of alumni engagement. McKeeney also appreciated Kull’s story of her professional zigs and zags: “Her sharing that success is not a linear path but a journey filled with opportunities for course corrections and pivots served as a great reminder.”

After the presentation, there was a brief Q&A session. Faculty member Ben Leeming, who knew Kull as a Rivers student, asked how she navigates the balance between her job and her foundation work.
“I keep a pretty structured approach,” said Kull. Her workplace is flexible, she says, and technology tools help automate various processes and ease the workload. Still, she says, “It’s a balancing act.”

A student in attendance, a junior, asked Kull for advice about college choices (“it’s daunting”). Kull had some words of wisdom that could be broadly applicable: “Remember, no decision is irreversible.” Know yourself to your core, she said, and let that knowledge be your guide; try to focus on making an informed decision, rather than the “right” decision. 

In response to a question about the foundation’s work, Kull explained how, though it grew from tragedy, it also brings joy. It’s not quite lemonade from lemons, but Kull described recently seeing her now 8-year-old niece dressed in full princess regalia for her birthday and ready to celebrate—a sturdy and happy child despite the unimaginable loss of her little brother. “Those are the reasons we do the work, and that’s what we hold onto,” said Kull. “Those moments of joy.”
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