October 26, 2020

Tragedy Turned Alumna’s Focus to Suicide Prevention

UMW alumna Julie van Ommeren had barely begun her coursework toward a bachelor of liberal studies degree when tragedy struck. The experience led her to shape her degree toward the work she plans in suicide prevention.

UMW alumna Julie van Ommeren had barely begun her coursework toward a bachelor of liberal studies degree when tragedy struck. The experience led her to shape her degree toward the work she plans in suicide prevention.

It’s 2 a.m., and there’s a police officer sitting on Julie van Ommeren’s gingham-print loveseat. Another stands by his side. But where is Kyle? She hears someone scream, then suddenly realizes the voice is her own.

This is a story of how a liberal arts education – and a custom-made major – can map to more than a college degree, even when it detours to the darkest of places. Van Ommeren was two weeks into a bachelor of liberal studies program at the University of Mary Washington when her 19-year-old son ended his life in the family van. As she grappled with grief, her schoolwork grew even more personal.

A careful collection of classes and unflagging support from faculty brought meaning to a mother’s worst nightmare and led to a plan to help others. KYVO – named for her son – and “Dream to Live,” the platform and program born from van Ommeren’s coursework, shift the focus of suicide from death to life. Though they have not been officially endorsed, she shares them – and her story – on a website she launched this September, National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, with deaths on the rise, particularly among young people like Kyle. Read more.