OSU stu­dent grows from scared fresh­man to con­fi­dent leader

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY K.S. MCNUTT Staff Writer km­c­nutt@ok­la­homan.com

As a fresh­man at Ok­la­homa State Univer­sity, Erica Stephens felt like she didn’t be­long.

The 2014 grad­u­ate of Put­nam City High School loved school — both the learn­ing and the ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties — but no one in her fam­ily had gone to col­lege.

“I would walk around cam­pus and think, ‘How did I get here?’ I was just think­ing in the back of my head, ‘We don’t go to col­lege,’” Stephens said.

To­day the OSU se­nior is pres­i­dent of the Stu­dent Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion and pre­par­ing to take the Law School Ad­mis­sion Test.

The trans­for­ma­tion be­gan at the end of that first year when she told her­self: “Wow, but I am here, so I’m go­ing to have to snap out of it.”

Stephens said her mom al­ways was con­fi­dent she would go to col­lege and would suc­ceed, and it was time to gain self­con­fi­dence and make the most of the op­por­tu­nity.

“Then I started be­liev­ing that I do be­long here, just as much as the per­son sit­ting next to me,” she said.

Un­der­grad­u­ate ex­pe­ri­ence

That con­fi­dence grew with each se­mes­ter of col­lege, Stephens said.

Along the way she was en­cour­aged by many peo­ple such as Pre­cious El­more-San­ders, as­sis­tant vice pres­i­dent for in­sti­tu­tional di­ver­sity.

“She is some­one I re­ally look up to,” Stephens said. “I see her and her suc­cess and I want to be like her. She’s al­ways will­ing to lis­ten to me.”

El­more-San­ders said she has en­joyed watch­ing Stephens grow into a young woman with am­bi­tion, fo­cus and aware­ness of the needs, feel­ings and ex­pe­ri­ences of oth­ers.

“She’s a per­son who re­ally pro­cesses things and will lis­ten to un­der­stand,” El­more-San­ders said. “She un­der­stands the value of ev­ery­body’s story and that ev­ery­one has a story.”

That and the fact that she’s “not afraid to speak up” will serve her well as pres­i­dent of the OSU stu­dent body, a huge and dif­fi­cult role, El­moreSan­ders said.

Stephens ad­mits she was a lit­tle ner­vous to run for the of­fice be­cause no black woman had done so since the ’70s.

Her run­ning mate was Bray­den Far­rell — a white male.

She came from Greek life; he came from res­i­den­tial life.

“We bal­ance each other out re­ally well,” Stephens said. “Our slo­gan was Unite the Cam­pus.”

They want to give smaller groups a voice on cam­pus, so they went to ev­ery or­ga­ni­za­tion they could in­stead of re­ly­ing on so­cial me­dia to reach peo­ple.

“We wanted to hear what they had to say,” Stephens said.

The pair was elected and took of­fice in April. Stephens said she goes to lots of meet­ings with ad­min­is­tra­tors, fac­ulty and stu­dents.

“I’m try­ing to be there, be present to dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions,” she said.

At the same time, she’s go­ing to Nor­man two evenings a week and ev­ery other Satur­day to take a Law School Ad­mis­sion Test prepara- tion class.

She will take the test in Septem­ber.

“It’s def­i­nitely go­ing to be a lot of work prep­ping for LSAT, do­ing classes and be­ing pres­i­dent, so I’m try­ing to fig­ure out how to work all of that into a sched­ule,” she said.

Adult as­pi­ra­tions

Learn­ing to man­age her time and wor­ry­ing about ex­penses were two big adult con­cerns Stephens sud­denly had to deal with at OSU.

“I kind of feel like that sum­mer be­fore go­ing to col­lege was the last mo­ment that I felt like a kid,” she said.

When the go­ing got tough, she turned to her “big­gest back home.”

“My mom gives me a lot of the life ad­vice and en­cour­age­ment to be in col­lege,” Stephens said.

The Ok­la­homa’s Prom­ise schol­ar­ship has cov­ered her tu­ition, and other smaller OSU schol­ar­ships and grants have helped. She also has worked since sec­ond se­mes­ter of her fresh­man year.

Still Stephens said she will have about $20,000 in stu­dent loan debt at grad­u­a­tion.

Pay­ing for law school is a bridge she will cross when she gets to it.

First she needs to com­plete the re­quire­ments for her de­gree — a dou­ble ma­jor in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence and strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions, with a mi­nor in Span­ish.

“I’ve come a long way. I don’t think of it as scary any­more like I did fresh­man year. I think of it as an op­por­tu­nity that a lot of peo­ple in my fam­ily didn’t have. I’m do­ing it for my­self, ob­vi­ously ... but I’m also do­ing it a big part for my fam­ily.”

Stephens wants to do more than study pol­i­tics and run some­one else’s cam­paign. Even­tu­ally she wants to run for of­fice.

“I will have a suc­cess­ful fu­ture,” she said. “My dream job is I want to be a U.S. sen­a­tor one day.”

“She’ll ab­so­lutely do it,” El­more-San­ders said. “No doubt about that.” cheer­leader

DERICHSWEILER, THE OK­LA­HOMAN] [PHOTO BY JA­COB

Erica Stephens, stu­dent gov­ern­ment pres­i­dent at Ok­la­homa State Univer­sity, says her mother, Roslyn Stephens, is her big­gest cheer­leader. “My mom al­ways told me I’d be the first in our fam­ily to go to col­lege.”

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