Following his graduation from Auburn’s College of Business in 2012, Schavion Graham became involved in a campus program called FIND – Finding Inclusiveness through Networking and Diversity. The program was sponsored by the Black Student Union and the National Panhellenic Council.
“In this program I was introduced to an opportunity through the College of Education to be part of the Malawi Project,” Graham said. “This project gave me an opportunity to not only travel to Africa, but also to share my love of working with others by tutoring at an orphanage. I was teaching the U.S. equivalent of fifth grade students. The Malawi experience changed my life.”
Graham developed a close relationship with College of Education Associate Professor Jared Russell, who accompanied the teaching cohort to Africa. He learned from Russell that people everywhere desire the same thing.
“I was with Dr. Russell for three weeks, and he helped me develop confidence in myself as a teacher and as a leader,” Graham said. “Those students were eager to learn. The people we met in Africa were great, and the students cared deeply about their education. Another thing I learned was that Malawi wasn’t like some sad, desperate third world place where I came to ‘save the children for just 68 cents a day.’ It was beautiful there. It reminded me more of the back roads of Alabama and Mississippi. People have certain similarities wherever you go.”
Following his Malawi experience, Graham was inspired to someday help mentor young people himself. Russell noticed a change during the adventure.
“Schavion took full advantage of the opportunities to mentor and teach students while we were in Malawi,” Russell said. “As a result, he expanded his world-view.”
After much thought, Graham applied to the master’s program in Higher Education Administration.
“I was admitted to the program and received a graduate assistantship through the Truman Pierce Institute to work with at-risk high school students,” he said. “I worked with probably 400 different individuals in places like Dadeville, Opelika, and Loachapoka. I spent a year doing that while taking classes for my master’s. Also as part of my assistantship I was able to present student success strategies to incoming freshmen on issues such as time and stress management, study skills, and test taking, while also hosting workshops in professional and career development. I was staying very busy!”
Graham graduated with his M.Ed in May of 2014 and took a position in Human Resource Management with the Target Corporation. It was in this job that he found out how much he missed being in a campus environment.
“Basically, as I worked at Target I discovered my passion and realized that a college campus was where I was supposed to be,” he said. “I missed being around 25,000 young people and all the energy and excitement that goes along with that. I knew that was where I wanted to be. So now I am looking seriously into the possibility of getting my doctorate and working on a campus somewhere. I want to impact young people in the same way that my professors here at Auburn impacted my life.”
In addition to the mentorship and confidence he gained from his field experiences with Jared Russell, Graham said he also benefitted from his classroom work with Professors Jim and Maria Witte in the Foundations of Education, Leadership, and Technology Department in the College of Education.
“The Wittes were just awesome people to be around,” he said. “They did so much not only for my academic development, but they also inspired me. It sounds cliché, I know, but the idea of the Auburn Family is real. They gave me a sense of urgency to do my best work, as well as a strong sense of caring and family support. They pushed me to keep doing better.”
In his last year on campus Graham served on the College of Education Diversity Committee, where he says he saw a genuine commitment to inclusion on the part of the College. Russell served on the committee at that time, as well.
“Schavion provided valuable student-oriented perspectives and insights during his time of the committee,” Russell said. “These views impacted the Committee’s conceptualization of key diversity initiatives.”
“I worked hard to get where I am, no doubt,” Graham concluded. “I was just a kid when I came to Auburn from Huntsville as a freshman all those years ago, and now I know what I want to do and how I can help others like me. But as much as I have given to Auburn in time and resources, Auburn has given much more back to me, and this is especially true in the College of Education. I love it.”