Rising junior Samantha Steward wasn’t sure what college or the future would hold for her when she was a high school student, but now she says she’s found her home, developed her inner leadership potential and even discovered a career path that allows her to help others. The bountiful opportunities at Olivet College have allowed her to set big goals she never knew would be within reach, while earning an affordable college education and staying connected with her family. Now, Samantha couldn’t be more confident in her future, and credits Olivet College – and her OC family – in helping her reach her full potential.
Finding Her Fit
Shortly after graduating from high school, Samantha and her mother planted their roots in Olivet, following life circumstances that previously prevented them from settling down. The quite, safe town charmed Samantha almost immediately, but she had no idea that the little college down the road would also steal her heart. She immediately felt welcomed, and admissions representatives worked with Samantha to ensure her college education was affordable. Samantha was right where she was meant to be – she could just feel it.
“Olivet College is a really personal place,” Samantha explained. “It’s easy to connect with other students and professors know you and will work with you. If a student is gone for a few days, they notice and check in with you. I recently experienced this firsthand when I had to have surgery right in the middle of the spring semester. It was a really difficult time, but my professors understood what I was going through and worked with me to stay on track. I passed all my classes thanks to their support, something that I know would not have been the case at a larger school.”
Samantha, a psychology major, says the professors in her program have become some of her biggest supporters during any challenge she’s faced. Elisa Geiss, assistant professor of psychology, is one of the first people Samantha remembers connecting with at her New Student Orientation, and she says their bond has only grown stronger since. It was Dr. Geiss that actually inspired Samantha to consider a major in psychology, sharing that the program explores a wide range of real world topics, including how the brain works, how personalities are solidified, understanding mental illness and much more.
“I’m really interested to work in the field of psychology because I know regardless of which career I choose, it will allow me to help others,” Samantha said. “I’m exploring my options as a foster care worker right now. My mom was adopted, and hearing all the things she had to go through while growing up has inspired me to be someone foster children can rely on and show them that someone cares about them.”
An Authentic Female Leader
In addition to her pursuit of knowledge in the classroom, Samantha plunged into new waters and decided to challenge herself to become a better leader. In March 2018, at the second annual Cultivating Women Leaders event, Samantha graduated from OC’s ATHENA International Women’s Leadership Institute. She even took the podium in front of hundreds of attendees to share more about her experience – something she says she never would have done before taking part in the program.
ATHENA International is a well-recognized successful non-profit organization founded in Lansing, Michigan that seeks to support, develop and honor women leaders through programs that are administered in partnership with host organizations. The institute uses the acclaimed ATHENA Leadership model, developed by ATHENA International and used around the world, encouraging women to become leaders through eight core principles: Live Authentically, Learn Constantly, Build Relationships, Foster Collaboration, Advocate Fiercely, Act Courageously, Give Back and Celebrate.
“I wanted to be more involved on campus and thought the ATHENA International Women’s Leadership Institute sounded like a great way to push myself out of my comfort zone,” Samantha explained. “I really came out of my shell through the program and could feel a noticeable difference within myself at the end of it. The eight core principles are something I know will stick with me as I grow, and building a support system with the other girls in the program was great.”
Samantha added that her favorite principle of the ATHENA Leadership model is celebrating, knowing that it’s important to reflect on the progress female leaders have made. In addition, one of her greatest takeaways was learning how to work with men, and having the tools to stand confident in her own capabilities. In fact, the program impacted Samantha so deeply, she even served as a counselor at the Olivet College ATHENA International Girls’ Leadership Camp in June, sharing more of what she learned with other developing female leaders.
“When I was in middle school and high school, I know that I was really struggling and would have loved a mentor to talk to and just be the person telling me, ‘you can do it.’ Connecting with the girls at the camp was incredible, and really showed me that young girls do need supporters,” Samantha explained. “If we can create a culture of support that begins with young girls, I think we could make some great strides in the direction of women’s leadership.”
Roots are Planted at OC
Samantha’s involvement doesn’t end there. She will also serve as secretary for the OC National Organization of Women and is a member of Psych Club, each fostering diversity and inclusivity on campus. In addition, she’s part of a support group for students who are facing any kind of struggle, and says it truly is like having the support of a family.
For the future, Samantha plans to continue diving into her psychology studies and staying engaged with student life. She concluded, “Having connections on campus makes my experience here 100 times better. I’m not a number or faceless, I am Samantha, a real person, and people know who I am.”