"Don't give up your dream," Sammie Davis-Dyson tells her student advisees. She should know.
The daughter of a self-educated minister in nearby Elyria, Davis-Dyson long had the dream of attending college, but early marriage, life in the projects, and children intervened.
Some dreams die hard, however, and in 1986, with the assistance of the financial aid office, Sammie-age 41, an African-American divorced mother of three-realized her dream and matriculated at Oberlin.
During the next four years, she pursued a double major in psychology and religion, became one of the College's first Mellon minority undergraduate fellows, was vice president of her senior class, and in 1990 was among the 782 students who received degrees.
Today she is coordinator of special advising in the Office of Student Academic Services, where she uses her experience to help first-generation, low-income, and minority students deal with Oberlin's rigors.
"Setting priorities is terribly important. To manage the extremely heavy reading load, I would divide a week's worth of reading by six, with one day off for home tasks. Balancing work and play also is crucial: there was many a concert I chose to forego, because I knew I had only four years to succeed.
"I'm always telling students they can make it, too. Some hear me, and, of course, some don't. We have students who are very smart but also very proud, so sometimes they wait until they're in really deep before they ask for help.
"Or their circumstances are not related to bad study skills but to 'mom's dying of cancer and I can't concentrate.' Or, 'I'm really trying hard, but this was such a new experience. I really need another chance.'
"As a first-generation, low-income, minority student myself, I was ill-prepared for college life. During my first semester, being a mature student, I didn't bother consulting my advisor. I knew coming in that I wanted to be a psychologist, so I took all psych courses-which was ridiculous for a first-year student! I thought I was going to die.
"I failed 'Introduction to Psychology' miserably. My ego was bruised, but I still dared to dream-I took courses the next semester that had nothing to do with psychology, then third semester went back, retook 'Intro to Psych' and passed it with flying colors.'
"So when I see students who don't pass, say, a science course, and then want to give up being pre-med, I tell them: 'It's not that you're stupid. It's that Oberlin is difficult! Perhaps your school didn't give you all you needed to succeed at such a competitive place, but we can help. Don't give up.'
"I also remind them: 'The admissions people didn't make a mistake when they accepted you. You're here on purpose. Go on, repeat the course-if you really want to major in that field, or, if you don't, go on to something else, but, regardless, still think good about yourself.'"
Sammie's ultimate goal is a master's degree and then a Ph.D. in psychology, "even if I'm 60 when I get it." In her spare time, she teaches Bible studies and is finishing a biblical commentary for an interested publisher. But her primary focus remains the time she spends with students.
"The most enjoyable aspect of my work is when I am able, by virtue of my training, to help a student who has been reluctant to have his or her issues dealt with, and they grow into their dream as a result. That is the biggest reward."-- by Betty Gabrielli
Return to the ATS-December 1997 Table of Contents