Navigating college life while fresh out of high school can be a challenge, especially at a large university. Students may even second-guess whether pursuing a degree in higher education is worth all the stress, sleepless nights and frightening student-loan debt.
Sometimes, however the best advice and encouragement comes from how other students succeeded throughout their college career and after graduation.
The Defender spoke with three African-American college graduates who not only set their sights on higher education, but also overcame the demands that came with being a student.
Life threw all kinds of obstacles at them along the way: difficulties and opportunities, doubts and uncertainties, millstones and milestones. Despite it all, they made it through. Here are their stories.
Cedric Bandoh, Class of 2014
University of Houston
With the University of Houston ranking high in campus ethnic diversity, Cedric Bandoh credits his college experience with preparing him for success within his career endeavors.
As a global product manager at HP Inc., Bandoh interacts with a diverse group of professionals from around the world on a daily basis.
“Interacting with people from different walks of life widens your social circle by expanding the pool of people with whom you can associate and develop relationships, so just imagine how boring your conversations would be if you only had friends who had everything in common with you,” Bandoh said.
“That’s why I am extremely grateful for the excellent foundation I received as a student that allows me to navigate the challenges and opportunities of my current role.”
Though diversity was a huge plus for Bandoh, he was still faced with challenges studying supply chain management.
“My greatest challenge was balancing the demands of my academics, personal life, and role as a student leader on campus,” said Bandoh, who served two consecutive terms as UH’s youngest student body president.
He said he overcame his struggles by finding balance and learning time management, while continuing to strive for excellence.
“It is important to have a healthy balance in your life as you manage various priorities and you must love yourself first before you can serve others,” he said.
“It’s also important to be proud of who you are, especially among others who are different from you. Always know that you bring value to every opportunity. Don’t just build a network, build meaningful relationships.”
Vanilla McIntosh, Class of 2015
University of Texas at Austin
After college, Vanilla McIntosh landed a job as development intelligence analyst for Burger King Corporation. She said her journey wasn’t easy at first.
Five years ago, as a high-performing high school student, McIntosh was granted acceptance to the University of Texas through the top 10 percent policy. But after bombing her first economics exam her freshmen year, the bump in the road forced her to re-evaluate her aspirations and academic path.
“I didn’t have to work very hard in high school; I was an A-student,” McIntosh said.
Unfamiliar with the experience of failing and not liking the idea of not being good enough, the sting of receiving an extremely low grade on the exam motivated her to go harder or go home.
“The professor told us no matter what you made on the first two exams, whoever got the highest grade in the class on the last exam of the semester, would automatically get an A,” she said, adding that she immediately found a tutor and ultimately earned an A at the end of the class.
It was at that moment McIntosh reassessed her purpose and decided to focus on her goals with a clear mindset to tackle the challenges she knew she would continue to face as a student.
“I had to remind myself that while I did come to college to gain an education, my main goal was to leave college with opportunities that would not have been afforded to me if I hadn’t gone to college,” she said.
“From that point on, not only did things get better in the classroom, but major shifts began to happen in the way I strategically planned for my future.”
McIntosh began to apply for any and every opportunity that piqued her interest, including interning with GooglePlex in California, Management Leadership for Tomorrow program in New York, and attending Harvard Business School’s summer program where she studied social entrepreneurship in Beijing, China.
With prestigious internships underneath her belt and a rewarding career, she encourages other students to reach for the stars no matter the circumstance.
“Don’t psych yourself out and tell yourself you do not meet the criterion for whatever position you are going after,” she said.
“More than half of the programs I was accepted into while in and out of college, I didn’t meet the requirements for. Just show a genuine interest. Don’t ever count yourself out and don’t let [an interviewer] count you out.”
Kamau Marshall, Class of 2010
Texas Southern University
Kamau Marshall was recently appointed by the White House as a presidential political appointee after serving as a speechwriter and communications advisor for the U.S. Department for Agriculture (USDA) and a special assistant to Congressman Elijah E. Cummings.
He said he hasn’t always been the polished public servant he is today.
At the start of his undergraduate studies at Texas Southern University, where he focused on journalism and public affairs, Marshall said he was a little rough around the edges but gives thanks to one of his professors, who took the time to groom him.
“My professor, Dawnica Jackson, coached me on my image, speaking voice, and writing and if it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have understood how my appearance, behavior, and way of communicating could enhance my opportunities,” Marshall said.
From that point on, Marshall began taking on leadership roles in multiple organizations across campus, including co-founding TSU Collegiate 100 Men, where he also served as vice-president.
“From hosting on the radio, debating on the debate team, volunteering for Texas political campaigns, to using the information I’ve gained to teach other young Black men on how to succeed, I was a student leader,” he said.
From the outside looking in, it may seem as if Marshall has “made it.” However, he added that he still has a long way to go and is taking his time and enjoying the journey.
“People are always in a rush to get to the top, but fail to realize success isn’t a race,” he said. “Take your time. Quality results take time and focus. Being effective and efficient is important, so embrace the journey.”