Oklahoma Wesleyan University is in the business of transforming student lives through opportunity. Evan Smith has been determined to take advantage of those opportunities.
Smith, who will graduate in May with a degree in Marketing, had anything but a usual start to his OKWU career. He grew up playing basketball in Allen, Texas, and originally came to campus for a basketball tryout. But towards the end of this workout, something went terribly wrong: Smith tore his ACL.
“It was absolutely traumatic,” he said. “It was terrible.”
Still, the coaching staff had seen enough. They offered Smith a scholarship and promised to red-shirt him for a year, allowing time for his six month recovery process to take place. And even without basketball, Smith says that OKWU provided a chance to grow in his Christian walk, something that was just as important to him as playing. “I wanted to develop my faith more, and OKWU is where I could do that,” he said.
Adding to the uncertainty that came with his ACL injury, Smith had to adjust to the smaller campus size. “The culture was definitely different,” he said. “I graduated [high school] with 1,500 kids. I don’t know if OKWU has 1,500 students on campus.”
That difference came with definite benefits, though. Smith said that he had wanted a place where he could connect with the professors who would be teaching him, and OKWU certainly fit that bill. “I wanted that encounter with the professors,” he said. “[They] made me feel like I mattered, not just a number.”
Dr. Wendel Weaver, Dean of the Chesapeake Energy School of Business, specifically took an interest in Smith, introducing him to a number of extracurricular groups within the OKWU Business program. “Through the relationship that I had with him, the opportunities seemed to be endless,” Smith said.
Kyle White, OKWU’s Vice President for Student Development, was also influential in Smith’s time here. It was White who first introduced Evan to a minority internship with the group People of Color Capitol Interns (formerly Rocky Mountain Black Conservatives). White pushed Smith to interview for an internship opportunity on Capitol Hill—and Smith got it.
“When I went up there, it was completely eye-opening,” Smith said. The internship lasted seven weeks, starting in the beginning of June and running through most of July. Smith worked for Congressman Mike Johnson of Louisiana, and spent much of the summer assisting on a bill that was to go up for a vote. Not only that, but Smith had to adjust in life in the big city—navigating himself around on metros, finding his way through Federal office buildings, and creating friendships with the rest of his team.
He specifically remembers the first night he spent with that team, when they all went out to dinner to celebrate the beginning of their adventure. Smith recalls that the night ended in a kind of political debate about the hot-topic issues of the day—but not like any political debates he was used to. “In that moment, when I thought we would walk away angry with each other, we came to an ending where we were all friends,” Smith said, noting how encouraging this was, not to mention unusual. “Being able to see all those different perspectives, it was a great way to start the summer.”
“Do not be afraid to be uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid of any experience that sounds too big… you don’t know what could come from that experience.”
Opportunities Out of Nowhere
Smith isn’t sure what will happen after May, but he knows that there will be chances in his life due to his time at OKWU. Maybe that’s pursuing an MBA, which he’s already taken steps to achieving. Maybe it’s getting a job in marketing. He’s not letting himself worry about anything yet. “There’s blessings and opportunities coming,” he said confidently.
More than anything, he knows that he’s able to tackle those opportunities because of his time at OKWU, and because of the training he received in his department.
“The marketing program prepared me in ways I can’t explain,” Smith said. And his biggest advice for other students is simple: don’t let fear control you.
“Do not be afraid to be uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid of any experience that sounds too big,” he said. “If there’s an opportunity out there, go for it. You don’t know what could come from that experience. You’re bound to experience failure, but learn from it. Learn and grow in any way you can. Opportunities come out of nowhere here.”