Two upperclassmen selected to NASPA’s Undergraduate Fellows Program
By the time they each transferred to the University of Missouri–St. Louis, Terrell Jones and Nat Smith just wanted to be done with college.
“I was incredibly burnt out,” remembers Smith, a mother of three who’d first returned to school at the age of 30. “I was just going to put my head down and plow through the rest of my degree, but that’s not what happened.”
Meanwhile, Jones – a first-generation college student – had moved back to St. Louis after juggling multiple jobs alongside his studies in Bloomington, Indiana. He’d excelled in high school and aced the ACT, but as new challenges arose, he had very little guidance about next steps or familiarity with higher education.
“I felt like I lost my momentum and didn’t have the same drive,” Jones says of his outlook at the time.
Now familiar faces at UMSL and heavily involved as student leaders, Jones and Smith both credit the campus community with unexpectedly reigniting their passion for school – and particularly for seeing fellow students succeed.
“It really drew me in,” says Smith. “It’s been a perfect fit for me, and it’s the campus life community that’s really held me here.”
“I’m a commuter,” adds Jones, “but when I’m here, I feel like I want to stay here. I’ve never been at a school where I would go to class at 9 a.m. and want to be here until 8 or 9 at night. But here, this is home.”
As they each look toward one last semester at UMSL this fall, they’re also diving into unique opportunities working closely with professional staff in the Office of Student Involvement. In July, both Jones and Smith were named student fellows by NASPA, a national association of student affairs administrators.
“The purpose of NUFP [NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program] is to take historically disenfranchised identities and populations and help make sure that they continue on the higher ed path so that there’s better representation,” explains Smith, who aims to pursue leadership education or multicultural student services after earning a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies this December.
The cornerstone of the NASPA program is a mentorship piece, with each fellow meeting regularly with a campus mentor to keep various programs and projects on track. Director of Student Involvement Jessica Long-Pease is serving as Smith’s mentor, and Ashlee Roberts, assistant director of Student Involvement, is partnering with Jones.
“Along with the mentorship aspect there’s the networking,” says Jones, a communication major who plans on grad school soon after finishing up this fall at UMSL. “We get to meet other students who are going into the student affairs field.”
In some ways, Jones adds, he expects the experience to mirror some of what he’s gleaned as vice president of UMSL’s Associated Black Collegians, a student organization that has grown by leaps and bounds the last couple of years.
“We get to engage with one another and come up with some active plans, so that when we get back to our respective universities we are able to just be better people, just be better students and through that be better leaders for our organizations and campuses.”
Getting connected to key resources and people first at St. Louis Community College and then at UMSL is a recurring theme as he and Smith share their respective journeys.
“It was at Meramec that I found out there were other students that had to walk through fire just to show up at school every day,” says Smith, who started a student leadership board there. “And after falling in love with the people in this [UMSL Student Involvement] office, I came to realize that my heart lies in working with students and especially with students who aren’t set up to succeed in the first place.
“Community college and the university completely and totally changed my life and how I viewed myself, and I gained a lot of confidence in myself. I want to be able to do that for other students.”
The empowerment and recognition of student voices also keeps coming up in conversation with the two upperclassmen. For Smith, getting to work on a proposal to potentially hire an LGBT coordinator at UMSL has been a highlight as part of an internship in Student Involvement. And Jones is presently an intern in UMSL Admissions, where his perspective as a current student is helping to inform recruitment. Over the next few months he’ll be working to grow a new program that he and an admissions representative partnered on in the spring where they visited local high schools every Friday to meet with St. Louis young people and spread the UMSL love.
“We’re expanding it in the fall, making it longer and not just reaching out to St. Louis metropolitan public schools but to all schools in the area – just pushing our efforts and making more awareness about UMSL,” he says.
Given his own positive experience at the university, plus his growing interest in bridging the gap between high school and college for future students, serving as such a representative has seemed a natural fit.
“Since I’ve been here, everybody just has made me feel more than welcome,” Jones says. “The fact that I can extend that to other people – it just makes me feel better. I get happiness out of making somebody happy.”
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