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Sarah Nerad: Redefining “The College Experience”

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Drawing on her experience at Texas Tech University, graduate student Sarah Nerad builds a Collegiate Recovery Program at Ohio State University from the ground up – and shows other universities why investing in these students is smart business.

A strong community can be a lifeline to college students in recovery. No one knows this better than Sarah Nerad, the program manager and co-founder of the Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC) and director of Recovery, Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery at Ohio State University. She has lived in both worlds—enjoying the benefits of a vibrant recovery program as an undergraduate and then struggling alone as a graduate student adrift at a school without a recovery community.

Nerad, who began misusing substances at fifteen and had done two stints in a recovery facility by the time she was seventeen, says she decided to invest in her own recovery after seeing how many people were supporting her so that she could succeed. College came in baby steps. First, she lived at home and attended a community college for two years before transferring to Texas Tech University, which had an established Collegiate Recovery Program (CRP) and awarded her scholarships. “I felt the school wanted me there and wanted to give me a second chance,” she says.

For all her excitement, Nerad was also nervous: The school was nine hours away from the only support she knew. But what she found when she arrived was an immediate family: a program of eighty-plus students strong, a three-story building for students in recovery, a dedicated academic advisor, counseling, and a social life. “Texas Tech’s program made me successful,” she says. “I don’t feel like I missed out. I had the full college experience.”

Nerad’s experience emboldened her to travel even farther away to pursue her master’s degree—in Boston, at a school without a CRP. At five years sober, she thought she could manage on her own. She was wrong.

Her experience in Boston sent her on a journey to discover where she belonged. In doing so, she created a home for other students in recovery in another state.

Recovery Campus sat down with Nerad, who recently graduated from OSU with a master’s degree in public administration, to talk about her experience in schools with and without programs and how students and administrators can advocate for their own CRC.

You say that when you saw people invested in you, you started to invest in yourself. Describe the power of support to a person in recovery.

When people start drinking or doing drugs, they experience a sense of ease and comfort. I found that same sense of ease and comfort in recovery, in my relationship with God, and knowing that there is a network of people with the same experience who are rooting for me. With that, making decisions, asking for help, and talking about my feelings became less scary.

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