French and communication graduate Rachel Thompson finds her place at UMSL
Rachel Thompson often heard the phrase, “You get out what you put in,” but thought of it as a cliché until she got to the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
As a Triton, the adage proved true.
Thompson sought a place to belong as a freshman and threw herself deeply into campus life. Over the next four years, she found purpose and discovered a natural instinct for event planning through involvement with the Millennium Student Center, Recreation and Wellness Center, Student Government Association and University Program Board.
This month, she will graduate with bachelor’s degrees in French and communication and a chancellor’s certificate from the Pierre Laclede Honors College.
The choice to attend UMSL was fairly easy for Thompson, who was attracted to the affordable tuition and university’s proximity to her family. She was also impressed with the Honors College.
What came next was less certain, though.
A schedule filled with coursework in two majors and extracurricular commitments might indicate Thompson had everything figured out from the get-go, but that wasn’t exactly the case.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I came in undeclared,” she said.
UMSL advisors showed her that she was surprisingly close to earning a French degree because of the college credits she earned in high school through the Advanced Credit Program. She heeded their advice and declared a French major, adding another to complement it.
“I chose communication because I just had no idea what I wanted to do, so I was like communication just seems like I won’t really be putting myself in a box,” Thompson said. “It seems like there’s a lot of opportunities that you can do with that.”
However, Thompson still felt a bit lost outside of her classes. She experienced a rough transition from high school to college, struggling to make friends at first. But positions with the Recreation and Wellness Center, Student Government Association and University Programming Board helped her acclimate.
She found part-time work at the RWC shortly after arriving on campus – first in membership services and then as summer camp counselor – and also joined the SGA, where she served as a senator and communication director. Toward the end of freshman year, Thompson joined UPB, which was a turning point for her.
“I was like, ‘Well let me just find my niche, let me find something somewhere where I feel like it’s what I want to do, where I feel like I belong,’” she said. “I was just putting myself out there into all these different positions trying find something that matched with me, and I ended up finding it, which was the University Program Board.”
Eventually, she became the student programming chair, and through that position and another part-time job as an event coordinator at the Millennium Student Center, she discovered a passion for event planning.
Of all the events Thompson has had a hand in planning, 2019’s MirthFest was her favorite. The event, a spin on a UMSL’s annual Mirthweek Carnival, brought four local bands – Dead Format, The Knuckles, Looprat and Mvstermind – to North Campus in addition to the traditional carnival rides and food trucks.
Working on comedian Ken Jeong’s planned performance at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center during last year’s Mirthweek was also a highlight. Ultimately, the show had to be canceled due COVID-19 precautions, but Thompson still gained valuable insight into the process of booking a high-profile performer.
“I got to get the contract for that and work with Touhill and marketing,” she said. “What a great experience. It was so cool to be able to be behind the scenes and literally look at his contract and his rider.”
An internship at Cosmopolitan Events, a small event-planning firm in Webster Groves, Missouri, last year helped Thompson further develop her skills in the field. The experience exposed her to the intricacies of a variety of formal events.
“It was very much the opposite type of event planning that I was doing on the University Program Board, where we have ideas and we make an event out of it and hope people come,” she said. “Whereas at Cosmopolitan, this is somebody’s wedding. They’re going to tell us exactly what they want. We’re going to get everything they need within their budget and then hopefully it’s everything that they want and more.”
Thompson said the internship and her work with the UPB and MSC taught her the importance of delegation, prioritization and time management, but there was another critical lesson at play, as well.
“Confidence in my abilities,” Thompson said. “It took me so long to gain that confidence, but I think throwing myself into all these different things and becoming more sure of what I was providing these organizations helped build confidence in myself throughout that time.”
Graduation is approaching, but Thompson is taking her time before entering the event planning industry. For now, she’s accepted a position with the Teaching Assistant Program in France. From October to April, she will work as an English teacher’s assistant at the Académie de Reims in the northeastern region of the country.
Whatever the future holds, she knows that it will be the result of what she put into her time at UMSL.
“I definitely would encourage students to get involved,” she said. “It just makes such a difference. I had to be mindful of all the opportunities that UMSL provided me with and to make the most out of those opportunities, to be very meaningful about where I was placing myself and the opportunities to say, ‘Yes.’”
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