UMSL student Darryl Sanchez is making every moment of  his second change at higher education count. (Photo by August Jennewein)

UMSL student Darryl Sanchez is making every moment of his second chance at higher education count. (Photo by August Jennewein)

If you’ve attended a conference or event in the J.C. Penney Building and Conference Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, you’ve undoubtedly seen Darryl Sanchez. The smiling 28-year-old student employee can be seen doing everything from setting up PowerPoint presentations to adjusting the audio in a room to putting together banners and everything in between.

“I call myself the ‘make-people-happy guy,'” Sanchez said. “I try to go above and beyond to make sure they have what they need for their event and that everything is taken care of.”

Born in El Viejo, Nicaragua, he moved to California with his family when he was 13.

“The only English I knew was, ‘Hi,’ ‘Yes’ and ‘No,'” he said.

He excelled in classes, but still had trouble with the language barrier. He joined the basketball team in high school, which helped improve his English.

“I had trouble pronouncing a lot of things, they (his teammates) would give me a hard time about it, but they also helped me,” Sanchez said.

After graduation, he was offered an academic scholarship and a small basketball scholarship to Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif. While attending college, he began working at Extreme Learning Center and FedEx.

“I really enjoyed working, and I enjoyed the money. Before I knew it, I wasn’t going to class anymore,” he said. “I was working three jobs, and it wasn’t a priority at the time.”

In 2008 he withdrew from school. That same year he fell in love with Lorna, a teacher with Teach for America. In 2010, they were married and she was expecting their first child.

“She’s from Clayton (Mo.) and wanted to be closer to her family, so we moved here,” he said.

Their daughter Evelyn, now 4 years old, was born, and Sanchez started to work for Teach for America in St. Louis.

“I knew I wanted to go back to school,” he said. “I wanted to do something in business, but I wasn’t sure what. I heard about UMSL and decided to visit the campus.”

Sanchez said he was won over by the affordability of UMSL, the accreditation of the College of Business Administration, the partnerships the university had with local corporations and, most of all, the diversity.

“It was the first time since leaving California that I saw people of other races besides black and white,” he said. “It reminded me of home. I knew I belonged here.”

In 2012 he enrolled at UMSL as an international business and marketing major. And when he’s not in class or working at the J.C. Penney Building, he serves as the president of the UMSL Hispanic Latino Association and recruitment officer for the Marketing Club.

At times he seems to be everywhere on campus and knows most everyone.

“Darryl is the ultimate student employee,” said Thomas O’Connell, manager of building services at the J.C. Penney Building. “He embodies the best of a UMSL student and brings the work ethic of a full-time employee. There are few people, students at that, who have the ability to relate to every person they come in contact with. As part of building services and events, Darryl has shown an exemplary ability to serve all of our guests, including those at UMSL, UM System staff and even Gov. Jay Nixon, with the highest regard. It’s remarkable to me how many people go out of their way to compliment Darryl and the customer service he provides.”

So what’s next for Sanchez, who is on target to graduate in August?

“After that, who knows? I want to do so many things,” he said. “I’d like to do sports marketing or maybe marketing for a local brewery. But ultimately I want to open a brewery in Nicaragua. I take pride in where I come from; that’s home.”

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Members of the Spring 2024 graduating class of the University of Missouri–St. Louis play Jenga during the annual New Grad Bash on Thursday.