“Love” by Kendrick Lamar ft. Zacari boomed as the room filled with black EMU students. Four rows of about 15 chairs for attendees were placed in front of a long table in the front of the room with six name tags placed at the edge of it. They read from left to right: Danielle Clair Simpson, Alex Simpson, Choi Portis, Nicole Brown, Nick Patterson, and Tanasia Morton.
Each of the panelists made their way to their respected seats and looked out at the building crowd. Students kept trickling in, making their way to the back of room because of the lack of seating and space. Almost each seat was taken by a student filled with excitement and anticipation of the success stories about to be told from some of EMU’s young black alumni.
Eastern Michigan University Black Alumni held “Young and Successful,” a panel discussion with EMU graduates on Monday, Oct. 16 in hopes to share their experiences as undergraduate students and where it has lead them now.
Finding the right path
Nick Patterson, a 2014 EMU graduate, said that he knew he was going to study education in college once he graduated high school. He earned his degree in english and language arts and writing as opposed to mathematics because it felt easier to him.
“I had some trouble running into the basic skills test but I took it six times before I passed it,” he said. “It was the math that hung me up. And the last time I took it, I remember praying that if I’m supposed to be a teacher, I’m going to pass it. If not, I’m going to discover something new. So I passed it…and everything went well.”
Unlike Patterson, EMU alumnus Alex Simpson admitted into the university with a plan that didn’t work in his favor.
“I came into the school as a pre-med major… that didn’t work for me so then I was in the pre-law major and that didn’t work for me,” Simpson said. “Ironically, I’m a lawyer now but I hated the pre-law program.”
According to University of La Verne’s website, it is not likely for students to enjoy the majors they declare during admission. 50 percent to 70 percent of students actually change their major at least once.
Bumps in the road
Besides college life, students often face other interfering factors that hinder their success; stress caused by trauma being one of them. According to John Hopkins University’s website, trauma is highly threaten people’s physical and emotional well-being.
2010 EMU graduate Nicole Brown didn’t know Michigan too well when she was attending the university. Brown was robbed in Detroit of her laptop that had all her work for finals week.
“My sister moved to downtown Detroit and she was pregnant, so she was like, ‘bring me some chicken,’ then she wanted me to go to Sweetwater and I’ve never been there before,” she said. “So I went there, ran inside, already ordered, came back out, my back window of my car was busted out, everything was gone all in like five minutes.”
Like Brown, Tanasia Morton, a 2017 EMU graduate was the second African American woman student body president in EMU’s history. With high expectations as a leader, she explained how her experience as president was much more rigorous than previous presidents.
“I got hit with everything from like racist graffiti to athletics,” she said. “There would be times after the racist graffiti happened, I had to remind myself that even though I don’t agree with what happened, that if this was a student, I represent that student as well.”
Danielle Clair Simpson also faced her own barrier. She earned her degree in journalism from EMU in 2009. However, she struggled to find a journalism related job after graduation. She was “a little mad at Eastern” after finding out Wayne State University required their students to do an internship depending on their major because she felt it would’ve helped her get a job right after college. She had work minimum wage jobs to get by for a few months before she finally obtained her current position as a managing editor of two publications.
Alex Simpson’s started his law education career focusing on child welfare but slowly developed an interest in business law. He is currently at Meijer based in Grand Rapids and supports the retail operations and the pharmacy.
“Any of their contracts or any regulations they deal with inside the store, I work on those issues,” he said. “Not your traditional lawyer when you watch TV and see them go to court and things like that.”
EMU graduate Choi Portis had an undeclared major until a professor suggested to take a survey related to the law course. She later graduated with a public law and government degree in 2008 and is currently an associational counsel for the city of Detroit Water and Sewage Department.
Portis handles litigation for the department and supervises other attorneys in the office. She handles any government contracts and makes sure it has “[her] signature on it before it goes out the door.”
Walking the paved way
EMU junior and criminology major, Jaiquan Rodwell, attended the panel and learned that networking, being yourself, and being professional is important in the workforce. His goal is to be a probation officer for juveniles and “stir people younger than [him] to the right direction.”
According to the American Association of Medical Dosimetrists website, up to 80% of jobs are never advertised. Instead, they are filled by word of mouth. Who you know and who knows you has become critical to job seeking.
Daryl Beatty, an EMU sophomore and majors in psychology with a minor in African American studies. He hopes to obtain his doctoral degree and teach African American students, but more specifically, teach and train employers how to get the best work out of themselves. After the panel he learned about the amount of opportunities he has.
“I learned the essence of black excellence,” he said. “I saw a future network opportunities… [and] what black people can do from a student to a professional level.”
“Young and Successful” is the first event of this year’s Black Homecoming Celebration week. Black Homecoming is Oct. 16 to Oct. 19., and is created to celebrate black culture on EMU’s campus. The week is filled with a variety of events like: A Seat at the Table, Eagles Love Trap Music, and Bodak Green Ball.