The Birth of a Student Leader: DeJuan Washington’s Journey

As I began my first semester as a first generation freshman here at the University of Wisconsin- Whitewater, I was plagued with various insecurities that forced me to question my value in higher education. Like many African American students at this institution, I struggled academically and saw little progress in my quest to mirror the academic performance of the majority population. I was lost. In search of guidance to aid me in my journey of academic excellence, I attended my first Black Student Union (BSU) meeting, a place where I would soon feel at home and culturally validated in an environment that was completely new for me.

As time progressed and I entered my second semester of my freshmen year, BSU became a place of common ground for me. I was able to connect with students who looked like me, thought like me, and more importantly we shared the same lived experience. It was almost as if we were a subculture within a larger culture that we had yet learned to conquer. The beauty of this experience was that even though we felt the clear division of cultures, we still managed to thrive and coexist with our majority peers.

It was during one of the weekly BSU meetings that a guest speaker, who I later learned was the Director of Career and Leadership Development (CLD) named Ron Buchholz, came in to speak about possible internship opportunities and the importance of getting involved on campus. Being the academically challenged freshmen that I was, I immediately skimmed over the information in the flier in search of the GPA requirement, and of course I didn’t meet the criteria. I did however skim over a position at the LGBT resource center that I knew would be great for me once I achieved the GPA requirement, so all hope wasn’t lost.

Following that meeting, I worked tirelessly to boost my GPA, spending long nights in the library, exchanging my thirsty Thursdays for study Thursdays, attending office hours and most importantly asking for help when needed. For the first time in my short lived colligate career, I felt like an actual college student. I taught myself how to properly prepare for exams, how to keep track of my progress in classes, and how to manage my time wisely. These self-acquired skills taught me to believe in myself and my capabilities. I also started to realize that although grades mattered, they didn’t define a person’s success. This realization gave me the motivation that I needed to apply for my first internship within Career and Leadership Development in spite of the many barriers that haunted me.

After completing the application and receiving a call back for an interview, I still had a tiny amount of doubt in my mind that I could obtain this position without meeting the criteria. As I walked into a tiny office to be interviewed, I encountered a warm greeting from a woman I’d later grow to love as Jan Bilgen. I immediately liberated myself of all anxiety, as she made me feel comfortable in her presence and I began to bare my soul as if my life (and bank account) depended on it. In what felt like only a few seconds, 30 minutes of conversation had passed before she informed me on the next steps to take if I were offered the position 2 weeks from then and we said our goodbye’s.

Two weeks later, as I sat in the basement computer lab of Benson hall typing away at my final English paper for the semester, my phone rings. At this point I figured it was a telemarketer as I’d forgotten all about the internship and quite frankly didn’t think I would get it.  When I answered the phone, I was greeted be the same welcoming voice I’d encountered two weeks prior, only this time she spoke with a level of suspense as if there was a purpose for her call. During the entire phone call, which lasted for all of 3 minutes, I still wasn’t able to convince myself that there was great news on the other side of the conversation. However, it was to my surprise that Jan Bilgen offered me the position as the new PRIDE intern for the PB Poorman Pride Resource Center located in Career and Leadership Development.

Obtaining a position in this office was critical to my development as a student leader for two reasons. For one, it thought me to always take a step out of faith, no matter if I couldn’t see what lies ahead. Secondly, it taught me to always believe that the impossible is in fact possible. If I had never believed in my capabilities, I would’ve never recognized my fullest potential; and if I’d considered my goal as impossible, I would’ve never made it to my current reality. These two things are vital to the success of student leaders, and this is why I’ll always be thankful for my internship experience with Career and Leadership Development.

After two years as a PRIDE intern and serving in various other leaderhip roles (Peer mentor, VP of BSU, McNair Scholar, ect.) , I’ve decided to take yet another step out on faith by accepting the position as the new Social Media Manager for Career and Leadership Development. While social media isn’t at all new to me, my lists of responsibilities are. In this position I’ll provide a fresh student perspective on topics ranging from career resources provided by CLD, leadership involvement opportunities, diversity and much more. Managing social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and a blog, I’ll be fully committed to providing the general campus community with an array of essential information. It is my hope that my story has inspired you all to be leaders in your own right in spite of the obstacles and that you keep following me on the new journey I’ve begun.

2 thoughts on “The Birth of a Student Leader: DeJuan Washington’s Journey

  1. “I was plagued with various insecurities that forced me to question my value in higher education.” That is a bold statement and one that reveals self-doubt that so many struggle with.

    I am so proud of you for understanding from which you came and I am more than ecstatic to see where you are going! Keep it up, DeJuan!!

  2. Sydney, thank you so much for your kind words! I hope that you continue to follow my on this journey!

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