When Candice Belton first arrived on the University of Missouri–St. Louis campus in the early 2000s, she didn’t know anyone. Not a single face looked familiar.
Her transition to college – even if it was only from Wentzville – came as a shock, so not even she would have expected to be elected as UMSL’s homecoming queen a few years later.
But Belton’s journey to the 2003 homecoming crown began in those early weeks of college when she was still learning how to navigate campus and looking to meet other UMSL students.
“When I first came to college, I wanted and needed to connect with people,” she said. “And then a group called Helping Hands reached out and said, ‘Hey, come out and get to know more about the campus with us.’ From there, I became a mentor to incoming students, which was really awesome.”
The multicultural mentoring group, which was known for assisting students who were new to campus, became a central part of Belton’s student experience and pushed her to explore a variety of opportunities. The organization made an impact on Belton from the beginning, but its most prominent influence probably came in 2003.
One afternoon that year, a group of friends had gathered in the Helping Hands office located in the Millennium Student Center as they often did between classes. The students started talking about the upcoming homecoming week and wondered who should represent Helping Hands on the homecoming court. Suddenly, attention turned to Belton.
“A couple of other people were talking about running, and I thought, ‘Oh, that sounds cool,’” Belton recalled. “Then they said, ‘No, you should go for it.’ Everybody got on board from there, and we ran with it. I had a great time through the process.”
With the nomination sealed up, Belton then got to work. And, as their organization name suggests, Helping Hands members were eager to assist. The group produced and passed out pins, fliers, T-shirts and other promotional materials, all in support of Belton’s queen nomination. By Feb. 21, 2003, their efforts paid off.
“The homecoming queen was typically someone from a larger organization, like a sorority, because they have a large following and people know them,” Belton said. “I knew that I had to really put myself out there more because I was representing a small organization that not everybody knew about. That’s why I did the campaigning. When my name was called, it was awesome.”
Belton still has a number of mementos from the week, including newspaper clippings and her homecoming court sash. But more important than the physical items were the lessons she took away about friendship and persistence.
“You can get out of it what you put into it,” Belton said. “Even if I hadn’t won, it was still a great experience. I would encourage anybody to do it because it opened up opportunities to interact with people that I may not have met otherwise. UMSL is very important to where I am today, and homecoming was a part of that.”
Since graduating with a BS in education in 2004, Belton has remained in a school setting. She returned to UMSL for her MEd and earned an EdD in teacher leadership from Maryville University. Belton’s also built a successful career in education and now serves as an assistant principal in the Wentzville School District.
“My journey in teaching started out of a desire to educate and create a passion for learning among students,” she said. “Now, I’m getting to do that in my role as an administrator. I’m still impacting students, but my reach is farther. I’m still getting to the core of what I wanted to do all along, and that’s to have a positive impact on students.”
For a list of 2019 homecoming activities, visit homecoming.umsl.edu. Voting for this year’s royalty candidates is open from Feb. 18-22.