Stephen Washington had a less than conventional journey to his position as student trustee.
In fact, one could argue that it was a difficult road for the junior management information systems major and military science minor.
However, Washington credits his successes to his passion for leadership.
His journey to Shippensburg began just outside of Pittsburgh in Moon Township.
Washington attended public school, where he received Cs, Ds and Fs in his classes.
“I was failing in high school. I was always told that I could do anything and get the lowest passing grade,” Washington explained. “They were just pushing me along.”
Washington said he approached the administrators of his school district with concerns about the status-quo.
Unsatisfied with the answers he was given, Washington made a pivotal decision — he left and enrolled in military school.
“I wanted something different,” he explained.
Many of Washington’s close friends and family members are or have been involved in military service and he wanted to serve as well.
Washington began attending Carson Long Military Academy for his junior and senior years of high school.
He credits the “structure” of his experience at the military academy for his own personal development.
“It has helped me realize the importance of self-care, emotional awareness and leadership,” Washington said.
During his first year at the academy, Washington found himself in a familiar situation with his grades. But something was different that time.
“My first year, my grades were not that different from public school,” Washington said. “But I did it on my own.”
For the first time, Washington said he earned his grades.
During his senior year, Washington became involved in leadership, when he was named Senior Cadet Command Sgt. leader for his unit; a position which included overseeing 60 individuals.
In the classroom, he earned nothing lower than an A.
After graduating from the academy, Washington set his sights on continuing his journey in military service.
Washington said he was drawn to Shippensburg because of the university’s highly-recognized ROTC program.
“The ROTC program was one of the best in the nation, but also the academic support programs available [at Shippensburg] are amazing,” Washington said.
Washington attended the Academic Success Program (ASP) before the start of his freshman year. The following year he became a peer leader for the program.
Washington had prepared since 7th grade for a career in military service by participating in Civil Air Patrol, his two-year stint at military school, and ROTC training at Shippensburg.
However, his military future was taken away from him.
“I was medically disqualified from all branches of armed forces due to a peanut allergy,” Washington said.
His scholarship was removed and he was no longer allowed to continue in ROTC.
“I trained for nine years to become an officer and then I was told that I couldn’t do it,” he said.
Washington admitted that he could have very easily “climbed into a hole and done nothing,” but instead, he channeled his passion for service into a new medium.
“I decided to pursue other student leadership positions and venues of service, but nothing really fit,” Washington said.
Washington wanted a way to work toward his future goals while also serving others. After a trip to the Career, Mentoring, and Professional Development Center, he found his next opportunity: Student trustee.
He says Victoria Kerr, director of career development, pointed out the position.
“I wanted a new leadership activity and to step out of my comfort zone,” he said.
As student trustee, Washington said he will be the eyes and ears on campus.
“It is my job to hear what the students are saying. It’s one thing for the administration to say, ‘here’s the data,’ but I can provide what the students are saying,” he said.
Part of Washington’s duties as student trustee include holding a seat in the Student Government Association (SGA) and on the Shippensburg University Student Services Inc. (SUSSI) Board, as well as reporting to the Council of Trustees.
“It is my job to communicate with the administration and trustees. When decisions are made, I have to decide for the students,” he said.
He will hold his position until his graduation in 2021.
When asked if he had a role model, Washington said he does not have “one.” In fact, he discourages it.
He said, “I believe if you model yourself as one person, you will only go as far as that one person.”
Washington added, “I have very ambitious goals that one person won’t fit. I do not have one mentor.”
His career aspirations include becoming a senior level executive with Mercedes Benz USA.
Washington keeps busy with an ever-growing list of campus activities including his membership with the Pivot Team and his latest initiative of starting his own leadership program for students.
He will be introducing a new program to the campus community in early October. He said he created the program because he saw a need for it when he was completing his own search for a new organization to join after his discharge from the ROTC program.
Washington encourages students to get involved on campus, “If they [students] get nothing else out of this, I want this one thing: Always while you are doing homework or sitting somewhere on a Friday night thinking ‘what should I do?’ You should always think and do the harder right rather than the easier wrong. It goes back to being the best you that you can be,” he said.