Nathan Stephens, Director/Senior Coordinator — Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, Department of Student Life at the University of Missouri
AGE: 38 YEARS LIVED IN COLUMBIA: 38 ORIGINAL HOMETOWN: Columbia, Mo.
JOB DESCRIPTION: I manage the day-to-day operations of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, a 12,000-square-foot facility on the MU campus; manage the GOBCC budget; plan activities and events to disseminate black culture; do diversity speaking and training; collaborate with campus and community entities to support and promote diversity and cultural competency; and assist with student leadership and development.
EDUCATION: I attained a bachelor’s degree in social work from Columbia College, a master’s degree in non-profit administration/social work from the University of Missouri, and I am currently working on a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy analysis.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMET: I am the co-founder of the First Ward Ambassadors, co-founded Youth Empowerment Zone, co-founder of Black Parents Association of Columbia Public Schools, Heart of Missouri United Way Board Member, and I sat on the police chief selection committee. I also try to work with various individuals, groups and entities when I am able to. My mother once told me that I was a born social worker, and so I do what I can to help.
PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: I have worked extensively with at-risk youth for more than nine years in various contexts such as an adolescent mental health program, recreational program and mentoring programs. I now work in the Department of Student Life at MU, and I serve as an adjunct faculty member in the School of Social Work and teach a class called Working with Minority Youth.
A COLUMBIA BUSINESSPERSON I ADMIRE AND WHY: I admire Sarah Brown, owner of Rumors Beauty Salon. I admire Sarah because, like most business owners, Sarah started her business with a dream but without the resources and the financial support that many businesses in Columbia are fortunate to have. Instead she came to church one Sunday after I spoke at St. Paul AME church, and we prayed together, and from there she began her business trusting in God and her God-given abilities.
WHY I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT MY JOB: I am passionate about my job because I am able to have a minor influence on some of the best minds in black America. Seeing what I see from some of the students when they begin to comprehend the messages that the staff in the Department of Student Life and others have been trying to get them to understand is priceless. I also admit that I like playing the role of broker in which I have some resources at my disposal to provide information and “edutainment.” (The combination of education and entertainment.)
IF I WEREN’T DOING THIS FOR A LIVING, I WOULD: Be working on my doctorate full-time or working for a grassroots non-profit such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Missouri.
BIGGEST CAREER OBSTACLE I’VE OVERCOME AND HOW: Balancing everything and not burning myself out. I have overcome this by realizing when I am about burned out and needing a break from everything that I can actually break from. This is a requirement for anyone in social services, and early on in my career I was not aware of when I was getting burned out.
A FAVORITE RECENT PROJECT: The Mizzou Black Males Initiative, in which the goal is to foster leadership and professional development among young black males at MU. I really enjoy seeing young black males achieve academically and socially because this is something that the media doesn’t talk about often.
WHAT PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THIS PROFESSION: This is not an 8-to-5 job, and if that is what you are looking for, do not work in student affairs. Also realize that students are in many ways like your own children; they can frustrate you to no end and in the blink of an eye make you so incredibly proud.
WHAT I DO FOR FUN: I watch or go to sporting events for fun.
FAMILY: My grandparents both have large families, so I am kin to several people in Columbia. Additionally, my grandparents had 13 children, so I have several aunts and uncles who have had kids, therefore my extended family is huge. My immediate family includes my wife of five years, Demetria Stephens, and our blended family of seven children, whose ages range from 7 to 24.
FAVORITE PLACE IN COLUMBIA: St. Luke United Methodist Church. I always feel the love and support of my church family even when we disagree. I have a pastor in Rev. Raymond Hayes who provides encouragement, mentorship and prayer for me as I do the things that I do in Columbia.
ACCOMPLISHMENT I’M MOST PROUD OF: Graduating from MU with my master’s degree would be my answer here. I am the first in my family of Columbia natives to do so, and now I have four cousins on the Mizzou campus.
MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THAT: Most people don’t know that I am deathly afraid of snakes to the point that I will accidentally hurt someone trying to get away from the tiniest one.