Growing up in a single-parent home in a low-income Springfield, Ohio, neighborhood, Ryan Staley didn’t exactly have going to college on his radar.
“It was a challenge,” Staley said. “I didn’t have a lot of motivation. I didn’t have a lot of drive for higher education. I didn’t have a lot of people in my ear giving me that encouragement.”
How things have changed. Today, Staley is a junior at Wright State University majoring in organizational leadership with a minor in marketing. He is also an assistant in the Student Activities office, president of the African-American Residential Caucus and interns at Think Tank Inc., a Springfield and Dayton nonprofit that works to alleviate poverty and strengthen the community. In addition, he was recently employed as an AmeriCorps VISTA intern and training assistant.
The turning point for Staley came in high school.
It was there that he got involved in GEAR UP Ohio, which works to embed a college-going culture in schools and communities to increase the number of low-income students prepared to succeed in college.
“That really gave me some insight into what college was going to be like,” he said.
As part of GEAR UP, Staley visited Wright State a couple of times. He liked that it was close to home and affordable. He arrived as a student in the fall of 2012.
Staley had an interest into going into business but was undecided on a major. The summer following his freshman year, he got an internship with Jobs & More, which is run by the Clark County Department of Jobs and Family Services. He worked with unemployed workers and tried to place them in jobs by helping them prepare resumes, hone their interviewing skills and improve their soft skills.
One of his supervisors had a background in leadership.
“I thought what she was doing was interesting and liked the fact that she was serving the community in the nonprofit sector, so I decided to major in organizational leadership,” he said.
Wright State’s organizational leadership program gives students a broad academic background to prepare them for supervisory and managerial careers. It combines courses in communication and management with the study of leadership theory and practice. Students also learn problem-solving techniques.
In addition to his academic load, Staley found time to be a resident assistant in the Upward Bound Summer Academy at the University of Dayton. In his position with Student Activities at Wright State, he helps student organizations get started, gives students emerging-leadership opportunities and manages the Twitter account. And as president of the African-American Residential Caucus, he helps puts on programs that encourage African-American students to live on campus.
He is currently helping Think Tank develop its social-media presence in order to increase its community engagement.
“Growing up in the Springfield community, I know there is a lot of work to be done. And it really gives hope to the community that there can be growth, there can be improvement,” he said. “I can definitely see where academia and my leadership classes connect with what I’m learning at Think Tank.”
After graduation, he plans to either get a job with a nonprofit or pursue his master’s degree in student affairs in higher education. For someone who never dreamed he would go to college, Staley may find a career there.
“It would be a great opportunity to build up students and focus on student development and provide college students with the tools to navigate,” he said. “I would like to help other students’ dreams come true.”