Graduates discuss their personal and academic growth during their time at Ball State

Fourth-year biology major Sherlyn Contreras skates between Noyer and Woodworth complexes Feb. 20 in Muncie, Ind. Sherlyn Contreras, Photo Provided
Fourth-year biology major Sherlyn Contreras skates between Noyer and Woodworth complexes Feb. 20 in Muncie, Ind. Sherlyn Contreras, Photo Provided

The outcome of graduating from college is relatively simple: receive a diploma that unlocks the gateway to a new stage of life during adulthood. But for some, the process to get there involves both personal and academic growth obtained only through higher education.

Indeed, the college experience allows students to gain a sense of their identity in both who they are as a person and as a contributor to society’s economic workforce. 

While job opportunities for success might present themselves where no degree is required and no tuition or loans need to be paid or borrowed, colleges such as Ball State University offer several advantages to committing several years of one’s life to higher education.

Fourth-year logistics and supply chain management major Austin Mote, for example, thought of potentially going into a “blue collar” job such as welding or heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems after high school.

However, after seeing the stress such labor puts on someone’s body through his father’s experience, he decided against it and pursued a managerial office position.

Combine that with a close commute, tuition reimbursement through Mote’s father being a Ball State employee and a program for his major provided by the Miller College of Business,  Mote had the perfect case to become a Ball State Cardinal. 

One benefit he saw with his education were the opportunities it provided in gaining relevant experience for his career before he’d perform in a more professional setting.

“College gives you a chance to show that you can apply yourself, and there are a ton of people out there who are really smart but can’t necessarily apply themselves,” Mote said.

What made such experiences worthwhile for Mote weren’t simply applying his skills and academic growth but doing it in a setting with friends who shared similar goals and majors.

“I’ve been in study groups with people where we can all apply ourselves together cooperatively as a group, and that’s been really cool to see unfold,” he said.” We can study and benefit from our grades and classroom activities but also have fun and go to basketball games outside of study groups.”

Mote said he made several long-lasting relationships with others during his time at Ball State,  one of them being his fiance. Beyond relationships, he recognized his own growth by pushing through challenges he lacked elsewhere.

“Growing up, I didn’t really need to study, as school came naturally easy to me, but once I ended up coming to college and struggled with some classes more than I thought I would, I had to go to study hours and get a tutor,” Mote said. “College also helped me to be more of an extrovert … I think college gave me the kick in the butt toward that direction, and so now I’m pretty comfortable meeting new people and talking to them.”

Mote saw this through participation in activities such as the university’s tennis club and Late Nite events. While he wasn’t on campus as often during his underclassmen years, he got more exposed to Ball State after living off-campus close to the university his third and current year.

Mote also valued the opportunities he received through resume building and networking at career fairs and the Miller College of Business. All of these provided him with valuable internships and a job he’ll start full-time after graduation at Interstate Warehousing in Anderson, Indiana.

Briana Towns, fourth-year double major in history and political science with a concentration in international relations, visited the L.A. Pittenger Student Center on a tour in her junior year of high school. Now, she’s engaged in and gained numerous leadership opportunities through Ball State.

Towns took interest in university Housing and Residence Life, having been a part of the Hall Council and taking on the role of a resident assistant (RA), and now she is the Housing and Residence Life Chair.

“I have seen housing from so many different perspectives and had the privilege to meet prospective students and their families,” Towns said via email. “I can honestly say that without Housing and Residence Life, I would not be the same person I am today.”

Indeed, Towns said via email that being a leader isn’t always easy, but the right environment allows for growth and demonstration in leadership for anyone.

Not only did she grow as a leader during her time at Ball State but also as a communicator in a professional setting.

“Learning good communication skills is crucial to your success in the future, so college can be seen as a test run for the real world,” Towns said via email. “College can also translate to a career field based on pure interest and course work.”

The way Towns views college is an opportunity for those who wish to seek a career that involves attending a higher education school, but she understands it’s also not for everyone.

“College has gotten increasingly more expensive, so the freedom to just go to college and explore isn’t an option for a lot of people financially, or they feel forced to pursue an education that they don’t want,” Towns said via email.

Fourth-year 2022 Ball State Homecoming Committee member Brianna Towns poses for a portrait April 18. Samantha Blankenship, Ball State Marketing and Communications, Photo Provided

Sherlyn Contreras, fourth-year biology major, discovered more about themself beyond their own academic goals and ambitions; their own gender identity as non-binary, and a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

College was an opportunity for self-discovery and growth in Contreras’ own gender. Ball State provided them with an open-minded environment about social topics, such as gender identity, unlike any other she had previously experienced.

This is because Contreras said college is more open-minded about queerness compared to high school. Additionally, they also said their queer friends helped open themself to the queer community.

The relationships Contreras made with friends and peers during their Ball State journey helped them gain acceptance.

“Being friends with people who were really open with not being limited to, ‘Oh, I have to act this way because I identify as a man or a woman,’ or [a] gender doesn’t define who I am as a person,” Contreras said. “Being surrounded by that type of energy made me feel more open … and having friends who made it very apparent at first meeting that they’re really open about those types of things.”

Ball State, especially through the Honors College, also taught Contreras to accept worldviews that, while different from theirs, still emphasize tolerance of different beliefs and values regardless of one’s identity. In other words, they learned to agree to disagree but in a welcoming manner at a diverse university.

Contreras views college as an opportunity for discovering the lifestyles and choices each student takes and for developing themself personally and academically, all in a setting where everyone is in the same boat and figuring out such opportunities for their own self. 

“It’s kind of like high school, but you have so much more freedom, and also the set schedule college comes with is very beneficial for you to grow into yourself and grow into your passions,” Contreras said. “You can change your passion, you can change your major, and it’s because everyone’s going through similar experiences, as well that people want to make friends.” 

The soon-to-be graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis also sees college as a chance for students to present themself and find their true tight-knit group of people.

“Even if you’re not a super extroverted person, try your best to be the first couple of months that you’re here,” Contreras said. “If you’re willing to be open and meet more people, then you can filter out a lot of people and find people [where] you’re like, ‘OK, I feel super comfortable around you.’”

What got Contreras into Ball State was the Lilly Endowment Scholarship, some distance from family and the Honors Fellowship. What they’ll get out of college will be the realization they can be their authentic self.

“Sometimes just getting to know yourself is an entire process,” Contreras said. “Nobody wants to become friends with the fake version of you.”

Contact Zach Gonzalez with comments via email at or on Twitter @zachg25876998


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