Learning to lead: Student opportunities pay off for young alums
Illinois State’s mission is clear. The University promotes the highest academic standards in teaching, scholarship, and public service within a supportive and diverse community. Illinois State’s trademark remains the provision of a small-college atmosphere with large-university opportunities.
Students consequently experience unique faculty mentoring relationships in the classroom. They also find avenues for growth beyond academics, often through Student Affairs. The division is known for helping students gain empowering leadership skills, which is one of the priorities established in Educating Illinois 2013-2018: Individualized Attention, Shared Aspirations.
Communication studies graduate Anthony Garcia ’13 maximized Illinois State’s leadership opportunities by becoming a Diversity Advocacy all-star as vice president for the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS).
“I had the opportunity to organize a lot of community service events and did a lot of community outreach. I helped network with other organizations and other Registered Student Organizations,” Garcia said. “We were always planning and cosponsoring, always trying to brainstorm and promote our organization.”
Beyond enriching his collegiate experience, ALAS helped Garcia prepare for life after graduation. He left campus to work as a paid community affairs intern for the Illinois Housing Development Authority, confident he secured the job because of his involvement and leadership role in Student Affairs.
“We learned how to propose a budget. We learned how to communicate with a team, teamwork, team building, how to plan an event, how to execute it, and how to reflect on it,” Garcia said of his student work. “ALAS taught me a lot of things that I wasn’t going to get out of textbook or from a professor.”
Adam Ghrist ’04 had a similarly rewarding experience as he too gained leadership skills through Student Affairs. Now a McLean County assistant state’s attorney, Ghrist prosecutes individuals charged with committing sexual or serious physical abuse against a child.
Beyond the skill and compassion needed to work with the youngest of victims, Ghrist helps lead a team of experts across fields to build each of his cases. He has had plenty of them since taking the position in 2012, heading to court for at least one felony trial each month.
The challenge is one Ghrist embraces with faith, prayer, and a confidence he started building while completing a political science degree at Illinois State. It was as an undergraduate immersed in law-related courses and active on the Mock Trial Team that Ghrist realized his passion is in the courtroom. And it was through Student Affairs’ LeaderShape program that Ghrist gained invaluable experience that prepared him for his current work.
“LeaderShape connected me with the University. It opened up doors that gave ISU a life and a soul to me,” Ghrist said. Beyond building friendships, Ghrist gained the opportunity to become involved in student government.
He was elected to serve on the Board of Trustees and worked as a student senator in the University’s shared governance system. He sat on the Student Code Enforcement and Review Board (SCERB), now referred to as the Student Appeals Board, which reviews cases where students are facing potential expulsion.
“I felt like I was tested more than a lot of my peers as I entered law school. They went to class and came home,” Ghrist said. “I felt when I went to law school that I already knew who I was and who I wanted to be. I saw the mistakes people made and the consequences.”
His self-awareness resulted not only from the student government positions he held but the campaign to earn those spots. “Running for office on campus was very trying and tested your moral compass.”
Ghrist maintains the same integrity today, strongly anchored as a husband to his college sweetheart, Tracie (Zersen) ’04, M.S. ’11, and dad to their two daughters. They provide even more of the strength he needs to tackle tough cases—a professional and personal challenge he started preparing for while still a student who learned to lead at Illinois State.