SGA President Sydney Stark bound for law school in New England

Sydney Stark stands near the railing on the third floor of the Millennium Student Center rotunda

Student Government Association President Sydney Stark graduated magna cum laude with degrees in criminology and criminal justice and Spanish and a certificate from the Pierre Laclede Honors College. She’s planning to study law at the New England School of Law. (Photos by Derik Holtmann)

Sydney Stark is glad she gets to spend a little time being a tourist in her adopted city of St. Louis before her time here ends later this summer.

She’s planning to visit all the spots – including the City Museum, zoo and art museum – she eagerly toured back in 2019 as she was settling into her freshman year at the University of Missouri–St. Louis before she packs up her apartment at the end of July.

In August, Stark, who graduated magna cum laude with degrees in criminology and criminal justice and Spanish and a certificate from the Pierre Laclede Honors College, will move to Boston to begin pursuing her law degree at New England School of Law.

“It doesn’t feel real,” Stark said of staring at the next phase of her life. “I do think I got the most out of this college experience, and I’m really grateful for it. I’ve made some really fantastic friends here and connections with the staff and the faculty, and I think I’ll miss them the most. I don’t regret anything.”

Drew Ryherd and Sydney Stark pose for a photo wearing their graduation gowns after commencement

Sydney Stark (at right) waits for a family member to take her picture with Drew Ryherd last month after commencement.

Stark was a transplant to St. Louis when she came to UMSL, having grown up in Parker, Colorado, just southeast of Denver. But she threw herself into the culture of the campus and became one of its best representatives, serving in the Student Government Association in each of her four years, the last as its president.

“It was really fantastic,” she said. “It was one of the best experiences. I really felt like I was getting connected with campus in a way most students don’t. I was able to see the inner workings of the university as well as advocate for change that I personally wanted as well as helping other students advocate for that change.”

Stark first visited UMSL almost on a whim when her family came to St. Louis for one of her younger brother’s ice hockey tournaments.

She’d done enough research to know it had been nationally ranked for criminology and criminal justice – her intended major – and checked out its various study abroad options. But seeing the campus, she immediately fell in love.

Stark also received the Chancellor’s Scholarship and Provost Scholarship as well as the Honors College Scholarship and Community Scholarship at Oak Hall, which made UMSL too enticing to pass up.

She moved into Oak Hall and went about weaving herself into her new home and the campus community.

“There are definitely things here that are very local,” Stark said. “I mean, asking where you went to high school – that was never something that we do in Colorado. I’d always have to tell people I’m out of state, and they’d kind of laugh about it. The food here is different. Imo’s, gooey butter cake – all of that is different. Some of the lingo here is different. That Midwest culture has been different, but it’s been great.

“The dorms were fantastic for making friends, and a lot of them came either from St. Louis or the St. Louis and Illinois regions. They were able to show me around and get me accustomed to the St. Louis way of life. UMSL really helps make that possible, especially with the dorms, with the organizations.”

She was eager to be involved in various activities, including student government, which was not something she’d had a chance to be part of in high school. She also joined Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, which helped her make friends and build connections with fellow students.

Stark’s freshman year was cut short in the spring of 2020 because of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In some ways the timing was fortunate because it came right as she was starting to feel homesick after seven months away. She moved back to Colorado when on-campus housing closed in mid-March. Her twin sister also moved back from school in Wisconsin, and she had a chance to reconnect with her family as she finished her second semester online.

But by the end of the summer Stark was eager to get back to the life she’d been building at UMSL.

In addition to majoring in criminology and criminal justice, she also decided to study Spanish, something she’d been learning since elementary school.

“Her study of the Spanish language opened up new pathways of study for her, especially connected to socioecological histories of neocolonialism and environmental justice in Latin America,” said Assistant Teaching Professor John Trevathan, who directed an independent study course Stark took. “I appreciate her intellectual curiosity as well as her ability to make important connections between course materials and contemporary issues.”

That certainly influenced what she wants to pursue in the future.

Stark again served as a senator with SGA during her sophomore year. She was instrumental in helping the association rebuild after the pandemic, recruiting other students to join as she moved into executive leadership, first as vice president and then as president. She took pride in seeing those students grow into their positions.

“A lot of them start off as freshmen or sophomores, and they’re looking for a way to get involved in campus, but they’re a little hesitant at first,” she said. “Seeing them grow and start to connect with the faculty, the staff and students is really rewarding, and it’s really fun to see.”

In addition to SGA, Stark has also worked for the University Program Board, helping plan student activities on campus.

One of Stark’s best experiences as an UMSL student came last winter when she studied abroad in Costa Rica, taking part in a two-week intensive Spanish program. She stayed with a host family, took classes at the Costa Rican Language Academy and made weekend excursions to some of the country’s famed national parks.

“It was incredible,” she said. “I was able to practice Spanish every day and experience a lot of things that I hadn’t while also connecting with my Spanish peers. We were able to visit a bunch of national parks, so we visited Tortuguero National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park. Those were extremely beautiful. The animals, the nature, the beaches – I’d never seen anything like that before.”

Stark would like to spend a semester studying abroad during law school, and her intended emphasis in international law could have her heading overseas to travel or live as she works with international organizations.

As she takes the next steps toward her future, there is little doubt she has left her mark on UMSL. In March, Stark was named the student recipient of the UMSL Trailblazer Award, presented to women who have worked to forge new pathways for women or who have contributed significantly to the university or wider St. Louis community.


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