Where am I?
10 Years Later
A Young Alum Looks Back
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Tableaux, the alumni magazine of Fontbonne University.
In 1999, Bryan J. Smith was a first-generation college student, a young man with big dreams who discovered that the opportunity and support he found at Fontbonne University could help him turn them into reality. Active and involved during his undergraduate years, this St. Louis native was, in addition to many other roles on campus, the first African American president of the Student Government Association. Ten years after his graduation in 2004 with a degree in communication studies, he is today the assistant director for resident education and development at the University of Cincinnati. In another 10 years, he said, he aspires to become a vice president or dean for student affairs.
Smith talked recently with Tableaux about his Fontbonne experience and what his years here meant for his career, his life and his appreciation for higher education.
Why did you choose Fontbonne?
It felt like home. On the day of my first campus visit, my name was on the welcome marquee outside of admissions, and I met extremely friendly students, faculty and staff members during my tour. These seemingly little things made a huge impact on me. I knew that Fontbonne was going to be a great place. Before my visit was over, I looked at my mom and said, “I think this is the one!”
Describe yourself as a Fontbonne student. What were you involved in?
My proudest accomplishment was serving as the first African American Student Government Association President. I was also a resident assistant and Fontbonne ambassador, I served as a member of the Fontbonne Activities Board as the events coordinator, and I was a member of Students for the Enhancement of Black Awareness (now called Students for the Enhancement of Cultural Awareness), the Student Alumni Association and the Residence Hall Association. I was very active, but I also fit in a lot of time to study! I think Fontbonne’s size and opportunities really enabled me to get involved and build leadership skills.
In 2004, when you graduated from Fontbonne, where did you see yourself in 10 years?
I was battling between what I considered my goals and my calling. Based on my experiences working as a resident advisor as well as serving in various student leadership positions, I knew that I had a passion to work with students. Each day that I walked into the student affairs office, I noticed the mission statement: “Engage, educate, empower with passion by grace.” At the same time, I was chasing my dream of becoming a newscaster. I had an opportunity to intern at a local television station in St. Louis, and while I loved my experience and appreciated all that I learned, I still kept wondering if I was going to be used in my fullest capacity. So, at the last minute, I decided to apply for graduate school at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. I have to admit that President Golden and Carla Hickman, associate vice president for student affairs, reminded me over and over again that I should strongly consider pursuing a master’s degree in higher education administration.
After graduation, what was your next step?
I remained in St. Louis to complete my master’s degree in adult and higher education with an emphasis in educational leadership and policy studies. I served as a graduate resident hall director in Fontbonne's St. Joseph and Southwest Halls while in graduate school. The best part about this set-up was the fact that I was still able to stay in the St. Louis area and be a part of the Fontbonne community as a young alum.
As you look back, how do you view your undergraduate experience?
I still feel the excitement and passion I did as an undergraduate student. I honestly feel like I have a long way to go because Fontbonne instills in its students to be the best that you can be and that your best work is not done until you have passed on to eternity. I represent Fontbonne everywhere that I go because the university was so great to me. I was a first-generation college student but was not treated any differently or given special privileges because of my background. Fontbonne’s stance on inclusion and diversity was, and still is, very real and genuine. Fontbonne instructed me to excel and achieve the highest standards of any endeavor that I undertake.
How did Fontbonne prepare you for your career and your life?
Fontbonne prepared me by allowing for real world opportunities and experiences in the classroom and in the residence halls, and by challenging me to take risks and pursue the unthinkable. I appreciated the brown bag lunches when heads of various corporations would come and speak to students about life beyond the university. The alumni office’s efforts to connect students with alumni for mentorship as well as conversations over lunch or dinner were meaningful. I saw the benefit of this as I watched my peers land successful internships at major corporations. As for risks, I had the opportunity, along with three other Fontbonne students, to participate in the Walt Disney World College Program. Going to another state to live for several months was scary and challenging, but I felt very prepared and supported.
What advice do you have for students graduating in 2014?
My advice to the class of 2014 is this: Take advantage of every opportunity available to you at Fontbonne. Do your best to network and stay connected with that professor who went the extra mile to help you understand the most difficult courses. Know and understand that there is a world outside of Fontbonne and approach the world as a life-long learning experience. It’s okay if you do not know all of the answers up-front. Be confident in the degree that is conferred upon you because that degree is made possible by hundreds of faculty and staff, as well as the Sisters of St. Joseph, who laid a strong foundation and a legacy just for you. Understand that you are a life-long representative of Fontbonne University. Be a proud advocate for Fontbonne. Go back and visit the university and take a walk around campus to remember where you came from. If you have an opportunity to give back to the university, whether it be monetarily or volunteering your time to meet with a group of ambitious students, then take advantage of that, too. You never know how much of an impact you will make on a student’s life by simply engaging them in a conversation.