Empowering students through guidance and mentorship

Editor’s note: Duck of the Week is a new section in Around the O Workplace that highlights UO employees and their work. Each story features an interview with one employee, in his or her own words, with light editing for clarity and length only.

Stella-Marie Akindayomi
Academic Counselor and Black Student Retention Specialist in the Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence

How long have you worked at the UO?

I will be celebrating my one-year anniversary working for the UO on Oct. 28.

Tell us about your work:

I get the privilege of working with various students that earned the Diversity Excellence Scholarship, as well as the Umoja scholars in their Academic Residential Community. I also support different student organizations where I get invited to speak on occasion.

My colleague Norma — who is the Native American retention specialist in CMAE — says we “provide the continuum of care” and that is the perfect way to describe what we do because we help students even before they are enrolled at the University of Oregon. Once they become students, we help them navigate higher education which includes career advice or connecting them with community or campus partners, housing assistance, or food like SNAP benefits. Once they graduate, I’ve been fortunate enough to reach out to and work with graduates when they’re looking for jobs or they want to get connected with the graduate school.

I also work with the Black Cultural Center and we participate in Nuanced Griot, which is a community conversation about the Black experience. Conversations can range from academics or to what you should do in a job interview. I think Nuanced Griot is a way for students to know that they’re not the only ones thinking of these questions because imposter syndrome is real. If we can address this phenomenon, we’ll find ways to overcome it.

What does your typical day look like?

I start out every day with administrative time and I end every day with an administrative hour. Students can access me for advising sessions through Navigate, or they can email me. They’ll schedule appointments typically 30 minutes to an hour. Every day is different, and each student is unique, so their journeys about how they got to the UO are inspirational. It’s awesome to see my students — especially if they come out of state — thriving as they become empowered.

What do you like about working at the UO?

As cliché as this answer is, working with students is probably the best thing about my job. I’m also lucky enough to work with the Black Academic Excellence Team, which is comprised of Black advisors. There are only four Black advisors at the university, so I’m able to work with them and pick their brain for information. Being able to glean from them on how to approach certain situations has been really cool.

What keeps you motivated?

What inspires me to stay engaged and motivated to work with students is the fact that I didn’t take advantage of advisors when I was an undergraduate. I want to be that voice for students now who are trying to figure it out. I am very transparent about my journey as a nontraditional student. Although things don’t always go according to plan, the important thing is to know how to pivot. For me, that was having a child. That forced me to get out of my shell and ask people for support and for help. So that’s what motivates me. I’m trying to be the person that I should have listened to when I was an undergrad.

What is something people may not know about you?

I’m really honest with students, especially during this time of being in remote learning. I tell students to offer themselves compassion, but I wasn’t practicing that in my own life. That is something that I haven’t shared with a lot of folks, but the need to take care of yourself, thinking good thoughts is incredibly important. I tell students that and I’m like, “You don’t have to go about this alone, know that I’m here for you, the CMAE is here for you. Advisors at the university are here for you.” I wasn’t thinking good thoughts and distracted myself with work and parental obligations instead of taking the time to myself to have a break. I want to make sure I’m modeling the behavior I’m asking students to do.

Stella-Marie Akindayomi is part of the Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence.

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