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“If they’re going to reach their full potential, regardless of their socio-economic status and what’s happening in their life, kids need help from their school.”
Marcella Sims wants to be sent to the principal’s office. Commuting to Roosevelt’s Chicago Campus from the city’s South Side, she’ll complete her degree in English and Secondary Education in December 2010 and hopes to land a career in education administration.
“I’ve known from the beginning that I wanted to be in a field where I help people. In the Chicago area, some of the schools need a lot of help, and some of the students need a lot of attention. I had to work so hard in school. Without teachers who were helping me, I probably wouldn’t have been looking at college. I was lucky that I had people who cared about me and wanted to help me succeed – not just teachers who wanted to get a paycheck and go home.”
After researching schools, Marcella said Roosevelt had everything she wanted in a university: a welcoming environment, a small campus, a distinguished College of Education and a convenient location. “Being a non-traditional student, it’s nice to have that college feel. I don’t live on campus, so I was concerned I couldn’t attend events and wouldn’t meet anyone – but I’ve actually had a lot of leadership opportunities.” She has also benefited from the University’s emphasis on social justice. “Roosevelt’s mission taught me the importance of exercising my rights and voicing my opinion, especially for those who cannot – and the professors I’ve had are excellent. They stress useful methods of teaching and work hard to give students a realistic perspective for when we get out there.”
Marcella works part-time at the Center for Student Involvement (CSI) through Project Prime, a nationwide, federal TRIO Program designed to improve the retention and graduation rates of low-income, first generation and disabled students enrolled at Roosevelt's Chicago Campus. “It helps close the achievement gap.” She serves as an orientation leader, encouraging new students to get involved on campus and linking into Roosevelt’s vast network of academic and career opportunities. “I like making them feel good about starting college. They’re always concerned about meeting people, adjusting to college life, their class load. They want to hear, ‘It’s not that difficult. You can do it. You can succeed.’”
While it’s a challenge to juggle school and a job, Marcella manages to handle both while raising two boys, ages 4 and 10. “It’s very difficult at times, but rewarding too. It gives you a different perspective knowing there are other people depending on you at home. It feels good to be an example for them.”
As a school administrator, Marcella would especially like to focus on the problem of youth violence in school. “There’s a lot of this going on in our city, so I want to help work on that. Students need a safe environment if they’re going to be able to learn.”
Despite her busy schedule, Marcella also finds time for outreach and advocacy. She volunteers as a high school tutor, and her passion for education is apparent in her support of the Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants, a need-based award for Illinois residents who might not otherwise be able to afford college, of which Marcella is also a recipient. “Without it, many of us would not be able to continue our education.” When Illinois state lawmakers warned they might have to cut the program because of a budget deficit, students rallied in Springfield to lobby for legislative support. In May 2010 she won the Torch Award and Green Key Society Award for student leadership.
To her surprise, Marcella was elected the 2009 Roosevelt Homecoming Queen. “Roosevelt may not have a football team, but Homecoming is a big event on campus. I didn’t think I’d have a chance, since I didn’t live on campus, but I know a lot of people at Roosevelt – and I won!” With the resurgence of intercollegiate athletics, the campus is sure to become even more passionate about the event.
Now that she’s almost completed her degree, she’s thinking about what’s next. In Fall 2010 she will begin student teaching. “After I graduate, I want to teach for a while and then I’ll go back for my master’s for school administration. I’ll continue volunteering in the community, helping youth reach their full potential.” She’d like to end up in an underserved area on the south or west side of Chicago. “I hope that in my school students can overcome the stereotypes.” Excited for what her future holds, Marcella is thankful for all of her positive experiences at the University. “Roosevelt has taught me to believe in myself. I am able to recognize what is important to me, and I feel like I can accomplish anything.”