First-generation Redbird and Education major Makiah Watson knew since the eighth grade that she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up, but she didn’t know where she wanted to go to college until she visited Illinois State.
When she did, the deal was sealed.
“Everything flew out of the window when I visited campus. I fell in love. If you were to look up ‘love for a college’ in the dictionary, I’d be the definition,” Watson said.
With Watson’s aspiration to teach, Illinois State’s highly acclaimed College of Education (COE) put the school high on her list of prospective universities. Although she came to campus for the COE, she decided to stay after experiencing campus scenery and the friendliness of university faculty and staff, who helped her feel at home. One such staff member is Department of Admissions counselor Branden Delk.
Delk initially met Watson at an event at Navy Pier for Chicago Scholars (CS), a college access and success program for under-resourced students. Delk gave Watson his card and told her to keep in touch. Watson proceeded to contact Delk with questions about her major as well as general questions involving Illinois State.
The two corresponded for about a month before fate would have it that Delk give a presentation to prospective students during one of Watson’s trips to campus with CS. Delk immediately recognized Watson and called her out by name afterward.
“Every time I see Branden he remembers me,” Watson said. “We have a really good relationship. I’m big about relationships as a whole, and I really feel the love and care from ISU.”
Specifically, the relationship between student and staff is highly valued by Watson, especially as a result of her High School years. She belongs to the second ever graduating class of Back of the Yard College Prep and recounts the accommodating and attentive nature of the school’s faculty.
“That school, we were a family,” said Watson. “We were always there for each other. The staff made sure each individual child had what they needed.”
Watson felt the same deep-rooted investment in students’ well-being at Illinois State.
“The staff at Illinois State is supportive and caring, and help incoming freshmen to feel welcome and comfortable,” Watson said. “The environment at Illinois State is definitely a positive one. They help freshmen to not feel scared and alone.”
Illinois State’s welcoming environment and faculty were incredibly helpful to Watson, who had fears about transitioning to a college setting, being a first-generation college student.
“I thought: I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Watson said. “Do I have the skills it takes to be a college student?”
Thanks to her relationship with Delk, and the positive interactions she had with other staff at Preview, her insecurities vanished as quickly as they had appeared, and her fears came to be replaced by an optimistic outlook on her future at Illinois State.
“It was amazing,” Watson said. “It made me feel like I could do anything. I’m so excited about the college experience. I can’t wait.”