OSU student grows from scared freshman to confident leader
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.
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.
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
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.”