Lessons in diversity and personal growth change student’s life course.
Everyone has a story to tell. This is an adage Ky’la Sims, BA '18, lives and learns by every day, and thanks to Ohio Northern University, she’s found that every story has value.
Sims’ story begins in Detroit, Mich., where she grew up in an urban industry-centered community. She later moved to Dearborn, Mich., where she further realized that the future she had in mind for herself wasn’t in a factory setting.
“In Dearborn and Detroit, they’re really big on industry and building people to become engineers, but that really wasn’t what I was going for,” says Sims. “Even though I’m farther away from home, a liberal arts education is very essential for people like me because it gives us the opportunity to develop our skills so we can have a better professional life.”
Sims, a recent political science graduate, always knew she wanted to go to college, so when the time came, she began her search. Her initial plan was to apply to Purdue University. However, when she went to Purdue’s website to apply, she found that her computer had mysteriously diverted her to Ohio Northern University’s website. Call it fate or call it happenstance, it certainly got her attention. After researching ONU’s political science program, she found it offered everything she was looking for, especially an intimate college setting and more individualized attention from faculty.
Sims entered ONU in 2016 as a freshman with junior credits, which meant she didn’t have the full four years to figure out what she wanted to do post-graduation. Taking a comparative politics course with Dr. Ñusta Carranza Ko, assistant professor of comparative politics, was a turning point for Sims. The class focused on a wide array of political topics: race, human rights, terrorism, democracy. More than anything, though, Ko taught Sims how to look at things differently.
Dr. Ko always had us think outside the box,” says Sims. “She wanted us to see past the prejudices we grew up with, and she always wanted us to see the world as a glass half full. She tells us that we can always go further with our life and that we don’t have to settle where we are. That’s what I admire about Dr. Ko, and I aspire to be just like her someday.
It was in this class that Ko realized Sims was really taking an interest in American race relations and identity politics, which examines the relationship between characteristics such as class, race and gender. Ko introduced Sims to a research article on this topic by Dr. Rosalee Clawson, a Purdue political science professor with whom Ko had worked extensively while earning her Ph.D. at Purdue.
“Ky’la is dedicated, goes the extra mile and is one of the few students to have already identified her research interests this early on in her education,” says Ko. “Showing her pieces on identity politics really pumped her up, so together we looked at opportunities she could explore to help her figure out what she wanted to do after graduation.”
With the help of Ko and Dr. Robert Alexander, chair of the ONU Department of History, Politics and Justice, Sims applied for the Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP) at Purdue for undergraduates. An extremely competitive program with numerous applicants from across the country, Sims earned a coveted spot and was coincidentally paired up with Clawson herself as her faculty advisor. It was the perfect opportunity at the perfect time to help shape her future.
Sims spent the entire summer of 2017 studying at Purdue, and she walked away with much more than just résumé fodder. She had the chance to work with several different types of people, and she discovered where her real passions lie. Along with the other SROP participants, Sims gave a superb poster presentation on American news media’s portrayal of minorities within articles centered on poverty, Social Security and Medicare. The research topic Sims and Clawson have worked on has even gained high-profile attention, having been recently referenced in The New York Times.
“I was given a project that was actually started long before me, and I was able to take a part of it that I really wanted to emphasize and make it my own,” Sims says. “That was the greatest part about being there.”
Every day, Sims strives to be the best version of herself. ONU has helped her do this in a way that has completely transformed her life and become a driving force for her career.
Being at ONU has most definitely changed my life, not just through the courses I’ve taken, but also the people that I’ve met from all different walks of life,” she says. “I’m a city girl, so it’s nice to meet people from the countryside and hear their viewpoint on life. We’re learning from each other. We can definitely have truthful and honest conversations with one another, and my friend group is made up of really supportive and diverse people.
Now that she's become a first-generation college graduate, Sims has set her sights on the future, planning to attend graduate school to earn both her master’s degree and Ph.D. From there, she hopes to attend law school, with a goal of becoming a civil rights attorney with an active career in academia. At the focal point of it all – lessons through diversity.
“Diversity is important because everyone has a story to tell,” says Sims. “Everyone has walked a different walk of life than I have, so being able to learn from them and to see life from a different perspective is so important to me.”
As she moves forward, Sims will carry with her all the stories. She has become better for hearing each and every one, and among her own, she will always treasure the new chapter that brought her to Ohio Northern.