By Evie Hemphill
“Patience” and “science” are two words that Candice Clossum didn’t especially associate with herself a year ago. Then she enrolled at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and landed an on-campus internship where she’s actually showcasing both skills.
In her part-time role at the E. Desmond Lee Technology and Learning Center in Marillac Hall, the soon-to-be sophomore collaborates on an outreach initiative that serves local middle school students.
“It’s a good feeling, because I thought I wouldn’t be patient with kids, but this has really shown me that I do have patience with them,” Clossum said. “And the fact that it was with science – STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] wasn’t really my strongest, but I now have a growing interest in it.”
The unique opportunity for work experience and mentorship came about when Clossum was an incoming, first-generation college freshman interested in staying on track academically and financially. Director of Student Support Services Yolanda Weathersby, who created UMSL’s StudentPlus Internship Program, reached out to Clossum through the Welcome Center and suggested the idea.
“The StudentPlus program is an investment in our UMSL students,” said Weathersby, adding that the experiential-learning program began in 2013 in response to a University of Missouri System action plan to grow retention and graduation numbers. “It’s pleasing to my heart to know we – the campus community – are truly making a difference in our students’ lives as they take this very important journey with our university.”
After undergoing a panel interview with Weathersby and potential mentors from across various units and departments, Clossum was paired with staff member Amber Bell-Christian, an assistant in the Technology and Learning Center.
“I watch my mentor and how she works, and she’s rubbed off on me,” Clossum said. “I find myself thinking, ‘What would Amber do?’ It’s a comfortable family setting, but at the same time it feels professional. My work ethic has changed a lot this year.”
The campus job is also convenient for Clossum, who lives in Oak Hall on South Campus. StudentPlus operates around student participants’ schedules, with the opportunity to work up to 150 hours a semester. In Clossum’s case, it works out to about 8 to 10 hours a week. She’s one of more than 80 students who collaborate with dozens of units and departments across campus.
“It came right on time, and I’ve had a great experience with the people there,” she said. “I really love working with them, and I can do it until I graduate. The hope is that I’ll be able to do the STEM program on my own down the road.”
Bell-Christian described the mentoring experience as an excellent one from her perspective, too.
“Dr. Keith Miller and I were looking for help with this new endeavor with Girls Inc., and Candice was the perfect person,” Bell-Christian said. “She has been so great with the girls. They look to her for comfort and encouragement. She is very organized and dependable, and she’s very quick on her feet when it comes to keeping the girls engaged and making sure they are having a good time while learning. She has just been such a great representation of the StudentPlus program and what those students do to make a difference here at UMSL.”
The program has also made a difference in Clossum’s choice of major. After initially thinking of either criminology and criminal justice or music education, she recently settled on social work.
“It fits my personality,” said Clossum, who hopes to keep contributing to the empowerment of women and girls. “I always want to help people, find the potential in people.”
The Florissant, Mo., native has been impressed with UMSL’s welcoming atmosphere since day one, and now she seems to be adding her own energy to that campus vibe. Serving as an orientation leader this summer and a first-year-experience peer mentor in the fall, she’s part of the team helping incoming students get their bearings at the university.
Clossum knows a little something of the challenges that come with such transitions.
“It’s just me and my mom, and I’m a first-generation student,” she said. “I’ve been blessed to have a lot of guidance along the way, but I still was nervous. There were questions I would ask my mom and she was like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know about this class. I don’t know what book you should really get.’ There were some kinks, but it smoothed out along the way. I had to make a couple mistakes.”