Something wasn’t right, and Stephen Washington knew it.
Washington doesn’t hide the fact that he struggled through grade school and high school. At one point, he was failing, and the guidance counselor asked if he would prefer to withdraw or fail out.
It didn’t make sense. Washington was ambitious—he was an Eagle Scout and a member of Civil Air Patrol. His parents graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and valued higher education. The public school system wasn’t meeting his needs.
After ten years in public school, Washington decided to make a change and committed to Carson Long Military Academy. “My education is my education. I had to take charge of it,” he said. “This was an opportunity for a fresh start.”
The change made a world of difference. At Carson Long, Washington’s teachers pushed him to earn and own his grades. He pursued leadership positions, eventually overseeing about sixty cadets. By his senior year, he was the third-highest ranking cadet and, over four terms, he achieved all As.
Through Carson Long, Washington was introduced to Shippensburg’s well-known Army ROTC program. He fell in love with the people and the university’s facilities. “What I love about Shippensburg is that I can see someone I know every day, but I meet someone new every day.”
Another plus was that Ship offered the Summer Bridge Academic Success Program. Although Washington improved his grades, his overall GPA and SAT scores were not where they needed to be. The Academic Success Program gave him an opportunity to catch up on his academics and get familiar with the college atmosphere before the fall semester began.
“That was the most significant part. I was learning how college works. High school doesn’t prepare you,” he said. “No other university has a program like ours.”
Today, Washington, a junior management information systems major, stays busy on campus. He gives back as a peer mentor in the Academic Success Program, is an at-large representative for the Shippensburg University Student Services, Inc., is a member of the Student Government Association, and is a member of the newly formed Pivot Team.
Although Washington connected with Ship over ROTC, he wasn’t able to continue with the program. “It had been drilled into me (by my family and mentors) to step out of my comfort zone and look for leadership opportunities,” he said. “I needed a program that challenged me mentally, physically, morally, and ethically.”
So, he connected with the Career, Mentoring, and Professional Development Center to uncover his next venture and discovered a perfect fit.
Today, Washington is the newly appointed student on Shippensburg University’s Council of Trustees. He sees it as an opportunity to gain professional experience, financial experience, and make that connection between administration and campus.
As the new student trustee, he said, “I’ll be the trustees’ eyes and ears to campus until I graduate.” He replaces Evan Redding, who served a two-year term as student trustee. Washington said he and Redding have a lot in common as they are both very social and enjoy giving their time to others.
Over his next two years, his work as a trustee will be instrumental in building the confidence of students as they take on the professional world. Even some of the brightest, most talented students Washington knows felt they couldn’t compete when they graduated.
“Doubt holds you back. Having these students know that you can compete with students from Ohio State, Michigan State, etc., is important. You leave here with a skill set. A degree is just a piece of paper,” he said.
Washington already has big plans for his future. His dream career is to work as a senior executive for a luxury car company. Early on, he was motivated by cars—shiny, fast, expensive cars. That motivation led to his first Mercedes 3000. “I worked very hard and found a fantastic dealer,” he said with a smile.
The dream car list includes a Maserati, Aston Martin, and Ferrari. This summer, he’s working as an intern for Daimler Trucks North America in South Carolina.
But there’s something else that inspires Washington. His hope is to someday open a leadership academy to help students build their confidence and leadership skills. “A lot of my peers are coming up without those leadership skills,” he said. “You have to start in middle school and high school with personal development.”
His hope is to meet the needs of future students before they are left wondering what went wrong. “That’s what’s driving me.”