From EMU graduate student, to interim coordinator of the Center for Multicultural Affairs

Through a unanimous decision, Gregory O. Thomas, Eastern Michigan University’s Academic Advisor and one of the key contributors of the BrotherHOOD Scholars Program, was selected to serve as Interim Program Coordinator for the Center of Multicultural Affairs in the Department of Diversity and Community Involvement.

Detroit native, Gregory Thomas arrived at Eastern Michigan University in 2013 to obtain his Master’s Degree in Higher Education/Students Affairs. In 2015 two weeks prior to graduation, he accepted a full time offer from EMU for an Academic Advising position in the University Advising and Career Development Center, the same office in which he completed his graduate assistantship.

Since arriving at EMU, Thomas helped create a living/learning community called the BrotherHOOD Scholars program, a cohort driven program designed to increase the retention and graduation rates of males of color by enhancing their academic, personal, and professional development. During the program’s 2014-15 pilot phase, Greg taught the fall UNIV 101L course and served as their Success Coach and Academic Advisor for the first cohort.  The cohort began with 10 students and has grown to 90 over the past three years. After 5 semesters, the first cohort of Scholars has achieved a 75% retention rate. The 2015-16 cohort achieved an 80% first year retention rate, exceeding all other populations on campus. And thus far, the 2016-17 incoming cohort has achieved a 90% first semester retention rate. Mr. Thomas also provides support for the newly developed SisterHOOD Scholars Community for women of color.  For the fall 2016 semester, the program’s first cohort achieved a 95% first semester retention rate. “Although the programs is far from perfect, we think with time and additional support, both programs will serve as a huge resource for our current and incoming scholars.” said Thomas.

“Gregory Thomas put himself in our shoes,” said Donovan Wilkerson, Brotherhood Scholars student. “When I was struggling throughout my entire first semester he made the effort to meet with me personally and let me know I could do this college thing.”

Wilkerson said Thomas’s ability to relate to him and his peers set him apart as a mentor.

“Greg set the example. He set the standard. Greg let us in on everything he has been through and everything he has achieved, so if he wouldn’t fail then we couldn’t fail either,” said Wilkerson. “As an Academic Advisor he made us believe that despite where you come from or what resources you have you can overcome them and be anything you put your mind to.”

In addition to his role as primary academic adviser for the Brotherhood Scholars program, assist in advising students in the EMU Opportunity program, and regular student advising duties, he has also spent time working as the Scholarship Chair for the Back Faculty & Staff Association (BFSA) and serves as a member of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration committee. Prior to one of the MLK committee meetings, he received word that he was selected as the interim coordinator.

“The transition was a little rocky at first because we were right in the midst of everything; the Dr. Martin Luther King Day Jr. Celebration, Black History Month shortly after, Multicultural Graduation being right around the corner, and along with my current advising work, I was juggling both jobs,” said Thomas.

Becoming coordinator for CMA allows him to continue pursuing his goal of, “meeting students where they are,” which means relating to students on a person to person level, so Thomas was honored to receive the coordinator position with Multicultural Affairs.

“Coming out of high school I wasn’t prepared for college, so I accepted that reality. I knew I needed to start small then gradually get up there,” said Thomas. He began his collegiate journey at Henry Ford Community College, and now has FOUR college degrees! He began majoring in automotive technology and shifted to social work because he couldn’t see himself working in the auto-tech field for the rest of his life.

It was at Madonna University when he began receiving support from TRIO Student Support Services and working as a peer student mentor that he met a mentor of his own that helped him shift his career path for the final time to higher education/student affairs.

“Ever since I started working in Trio as a peer student mentor, I envisioned myself working in education,” said Thomas. “I did some research and I came across EMU’s Higher Education/Student Affairs program. My fascination for the program attracted me to pursue my Master’s degree here. It was the best decision I ever made, and I feel like my life has come full circle. I recognized my purpose.”

The leading motivation in his life is his spirituality, family, and determination to be an “agent of change”. He hopes to be the best role model he can to others, especially young males of color because he came from a low income-single parent household, and has been through other circumstances where he can relate to the students he serves.

“I take all the hardships and struggles I endured and use it as motivational fuel to give me the confidence to rise above it, become successful in this life, and share my experiences to inspire others in hopes that it will encourage them to go out and do the same," said Thomas. “Every day I step out my front door, I know life is going to test me especially as a young African American male. I look like the negative stigma the media has classified us to be, but every day I work hard to change this narrative and prove that I am much bigger than that."

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