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Mentorship, leadership opportunities open world of possibility for education graduate

Teachers change lives. Breyana Wilson chose Western Michigan University because of the impact her middle school English teacher, alumna Stephanie Hampton, B.A.'10, M.A.'14., had on her. And now, after four years at Western, it's Wilson's turn to inspire future Broncos. 

The soon-to-be education and human development graduate secured a full-time job with the Kalamazoo Promise, months before graduation, as a pathway coach, mentoring high school seniors.

"It was initially an internship until I was hired in January," says Wilson, a Kalamazoo Promise recipient herself. "I really love it."

It's an outcome Wilson didn't necessarily see in the cards when she first stepped on campus intent on pursuing a degree in special education. But a multitude of experiences and leadership opportunities have illuminated a new sense of purpose.

"When I transitioned to the education and human development degree, I was able to take classes in creative writing and African and African American studies—topics that I enjoy and that I was passionate about," she says. "I've learned a lot about myself. I'm really proud of the growth that I made."

Wilson attributes her thriving at Western to a deep support system, which she first found as a first-year student struggling to make the transition from high school to college courses at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the Humanities for Everybody bridge year program, Wilson had a mentor who advocated for her and set her up for success by connecting her with tutoring and other support services on campus.

"I wouldn't have had that anywhere else. Western has really allowed me to be connected, allowed me to reach out and to learn how to reach out," says Wilson. "It really gave me the ability to have the college experience in full and to be successful in my college experience. I was able to take advantage of everything and get the help and support I needed if I needed it."


Once Wilson hit her stride on campus, there was no looking back. She joined a number of registered student organizations, racking up leadership positions within the Black Student Union, Future Teachers of Color and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.—the latter of which she calls a "monumental experience" in her college journey.

"A lot of the leadership experiences I've had have taught me how to … do the groundwork and create a foundation to build something," she says. "The work that I've done and the experiences I've had have allowed me to create a foundation for my professional life."

Wilson, second from left, was a leader in the Future Teachers of Color registered student organization.

Wilson also engaged in a number of opportunities to gain experience in the education field that not only bolstered her resume but also helped her fine-tune her future career plans. She worked in many youth-based organizations, including after-school programs, Communities in Schools and Gryphon Place’s restorative practice and suicide intervention training.

The experiences helped her learn she's more interested in working with older youth populations than in traditional elementary classroom settings.

"When I worked for Gryphon Place, I got to be more of a friend. I didn't have to be the leader or the support staff who's reprimanding children because they had a rough day at school," she says. 

"I know that I want to work in a school-adjacent capacity; my heart hasn't changed. I love learning and teaching and reading, and I'm super excited about literacy and youth and how those things work together to make a change in their lives."

Wilson is now considering pursuing a master's degree in higher education and student affairs. She says it's a career path she hadn't considered before Western, but it's one that a number of her mentors have recommended as they've seen her grow as a leader and social justice advocate.

"Dr. Luchara Wallace was one of the first people who really supported what I was trying to do at Western. Melissa Holman is another one; Sherrie Fuller, Dr. Deveta Gardner and a lot of the Black women on this campus really have a heart for empowerment and uplifting students," Wilson says. "Having role models and people to look up to that look like me makes it clear that I can do these things, because they paved the way and made it possible. It's very inspiring and motivating."

A role model in her own right, Wilson hopes her story of perseverance and growth will provide some encouragement for prospective students.

"I tell people all the things I'm involved in and that I was a full-time student and worked—multiple jobs sometimes—the entire time I was in school. It can be done. But I would not have been able to do that if I did not have the support that I received from Western faculty, the friends that I've made and the family I've come to know from Western," says Wilson. 

"You can come from any kind of background situation, you can come from nothing like what you're seeing here at Western, and create a completely different life for yourself."

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