Graduate Profile: Transferring to Success
GSU is special—for how big it is, it feels so small and personal. It really does support the individual students.
When 2020 Governors State University graduate Daj’za Mitchell went to a speech pathology appointment with her father, for a traumatic brain injury he sustained in the military, she had no idea she was about to discover her dream job.
“I was shocked in the appointment. I kept thinking, 'Wow people do this for a living!’”
Mitchell knew her dreams, but the actualization of these dreams seemed far away when she first began her academic journey towards receiving a Bachelor of Health Science in Communication Disorders. Having disliked the impersonal atmosphere of her first college, she came home and attended Prairie State Community College, where she discovered the Dual Degree Program (DDP), Governors States partnership with 17 community colleges to create pathways for students to acheive a bachelor's degree.
“I was nervous to come to GSU at first, because I knew it was bigger than Prairie State and I was nervous I would disappear in the crowds again. But GSU is special—how big it is, it feels so small and personal. It really does support the individual students.”
Having sound support systems at the university made all the difference to Mitchell’s college experience. “When I was at Prairie State, I needed guidance I was still settling on what I wanted to do and I didn't know how to get there. The DDP representative at Prairie State, Sharita Walker, helped me focus my thinking and filter it into what I really wanted to do.”
Mitchell was also a recipient of the GSU Promise Scholarship, which awards a full ride scholarship to students coming to Governors State through the DDP. When she saw the opening for a student transition assistant position with DDP, it was an easy decision.
“I was like “Yes, sign me up because you all helped me so much in my life.”
Eager to give back while receiving her degree the position with DDP allowed her to help guide others as she was guided.
“We take students who are just like me and started off at the community college and who need to figure out their pathway and get some logistics on how to do it. They have questions like “What courses do I take?” or “What scholarships am I eligible for?” We help with all of that.”
When considering the support she received in and out of the classroom at GSU, she views two professors as pillars to her experience: Nicole Koonce and Phyllis West.
Dr. Koonce encouraged Mitchell to apply for the Global Scholar Scholarship,which covers the cost of service learning abroad trips, when Mitchell mentioned she wanted to accompany GSU on the global brigade to Panama but couldn’t afford to go. Mitchell won the scholarship and went to Panama to assist with legal services by providing advice to Panama citizens with the assistance of translators.
“It was an awesome experience. Ever since the trip I can go into her office at any time and talk to her. She’s really been there for me and I think that that has been the major thing that cultivated the academic part of my experience here because our program is very rigorous and competitive. Now I want to go to grad school and she's been a big part of that decision.”
Dr. West also went on the Panama Brigade and has inspired Mitchell to finish strong and always consider mental health as being as important part of her life.
“When I was interviewing for the scholarship, she asked me what I do for self-care. And nothing before had inspired me to implement that in my life. Those two are just amazing people.”
Looking towards the future, she’s planning to work towards her master’s in communications disorders in order to work as a speech pathologist in under-resourced communities. For Mitchell, everything seems to be falling into place.
“It feels like it’s all coming full circle: from going to that appointment with my father to now graduating with a degree in it.”