Kendra Koivu, an associate professor at the University of New Mexico’s political science department, passed away on Sept. 27 after a long battle with breast cancer.
"She will be dearly missed by her friends, colleagues and students at UNM, and she will be remembered for her striking wit, tenacity and extremely gifted academic mind," said Timothy Krebs, the chair of the UNM political science department in an email sent to students in the department.
The UNM political science department will be closed on Thursday, Oct. 3 so faculty and students alike have the opportunity to attend her services.
Koivu leaves behind an incredible legacy among the students and colleagues who had the fortune of being impacted by her wisdom and good humor.
Jessica Feezell, an assistant professor in the UNM political science department and one of Koivu’s closest friends, spoke in detail about Koivu’s impact.
"She had fascinating, far-reaching experiences. She has worked every single job. She was a single mother going through grad school, and overall a total bad*ss," Feezell said.
Feezell first met Koivu in the fall of 2012, which was when they were both hired by the University. Since then, they have shared a plethora of memories both as colleagues within the same workspace and as inseparable friends inside and out of University and academia context.
"She knows every single actor’s name. I remember being at the Grove one day and I saw this actor, but I couldn’t place him. I asked Kendra later and she knew who it was," Feezell said fondly when sharing a lesser-known fun fact about Koivu. "She had an immense knowledge of everything from 'Doctor Who' to 'The Golden Girls' to World War II history to Finnish culture to Icelandic sagas."
Indeed, Koivu’s Finnish background drastically impacted her perspective on her own life. She often kept the word "sisu" — Finnish for "grit" — in mind to push herself to always operate with stoic determination, responsibility and integrity. According to Feezell, Koivu brought this mentality into the office and classroom each day.
Despite the immense sorrow, her passing brings to all who knew her, Koivu lives on at UNM through the life lessons she left behind.
"She was really true to herself," Feezell said. "If I could take one lesson away from her, it is to be strong in your convictions and work towards what your vision of what’s right is — always."
Feezell, along with Jami Nunez — another assistant professor in the UNM political science department — began a GoFundMe for Koivu in early September to support her family for her medical bills and end-of-life care.
The funds in the account have now been rolled over into a scholarship fund in Koivu’s name. As of early October, the GoFundMe has raised more than $18,000.
Just as Koivu’s tenacious and youthful character is remembered by her colleagues, her academic contributions and professional expertise is as well.
"We were SO lucky to have her. She touched so many lives; she was an unbelievable teacher, mentor, advisor, scholar, colleague and friend. She will be missed so much…" Micheal Rocca, a political science associate professor, said about Koivu in an email to the students in his POLS 311 class.
Koivu began her journey at UNM back in 2012 when she was first hired as an assistant professor. In the seven years since, she primarily taught undergraduate courses — Introduction to Comparative Politics, Comparative Political Economy, European Politics and Social Science Research Methods — and graduate seminars — Comparative Politics, Quality Research Methods and Theories of Complex Organizations. She also expanded her research interests in the political economy of illicit markets, the development of international drug control regimes and the twin processes of state-building and market development.
Her success in the political science field is evident by her copious accomplishments in academia. During her lifetime, Koivu taught at three universities, published countless scholarly articles and even wrote two books.
Services for Koivu will be held Thursday, Oct. 3 at 11 a.m. with a viewing at 10:30 a.m at Daniels Family Funeral Chapel.
Beatrice Nisoli is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BeatriceNisoli
Makayla Grijalva is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @MakaylaEliboria