The day that Terrance Stewart enrolled at El Camino College Compton Center was a day that would change the course of his life for the better.
In 2007, he was released from prison at the age of 26 and that same year he began his journey in higher education by enrolling in summer classes at ECC Compton Center. "I had recently moved to Compton, so the location was convenient and initially it was my plan for staying out of trouble," said Stewart, who graduated from ECC Compton Center with an associate degree in 2010 and also served a term as Associated Student Body (ASB) vice president.
Stewart's experience at ECC Compton Center proved to him that he could achieve his educational goals. In 2013, he graduated cum laude with a bachelor's degree in ethnic studies from the University of California, Riverside (UCR), and is currently continuing his studies in the master's degree program for higher education administration and policy.
Kicked out of school in ninth grade and labeled a "bad kid," Stewart had a rough childhood and said he didn't fit in, was bullied by other kids, and was shunned by adults, including his teachers. He always wanted to go to school but received little encouragement to do so.
"Once you start to doubt yourself, you start to deteriorate," said Stewart. "I work with at-risk kids now because I know how they feel; I have been there. I want to help keep their spirits high and tell them they have potential."
Stewart credits his experiences at ECC Compton Center for restoring his self-esteem, building his leadership abilities, and giving him a strong educational foundation upon which to pursue higher degrees. "There is something special about El Camino College Compton Center and the people who work there," said Stewart. "Faculty members and administrators saw my potential and always encouraged me to do more. They recommended I join student council; no one had ever asked me to be something important."
During the UC Riverside commencement ceremony last summer, Stewart was honored with the Marguleas/Weiman Humanitarian Award, which is presented to a graduating student who is recognized as a "true volunteer and role model." In addition, Stewart was named 2011-12 Student Organization President of the Year for his leadership and service to the UCR Student Disability Union.
Stewart spends much of his time outside of his studies as a community advocate and volunteers with several organizations that serve at-risk youth and people with disabilities. "I want to give others the opportunities I was given," he said. "I want these kids to know that we can all design a positive path for ourselves. I like to empower them through knowledge."
Two of the organizations Stewart supports as a volunteer include a youth advocacy group and a homeless resource group. During the last two years, he has mentored one young man who had spent some time in jail and is now a student at UCR. "I have introduced him to different experiences and opportunities to learn," said Stewart. "We go to plays, museums, amusement parks, and art shows. I try to hook him up with resources; he can call me when he needs help with something. It's the small things that matter."
In some ways, Stewart has modeled himself after one of his most influential mentors, Compton Community College District CEO Keith Curry. When Stewart first enrolled at ECC Compton Center, Curry was the dean of Student Services and he shared his own brand of life-skills support to many students, including Stewart. "Dr. Curry has mentored me throughout my college career," said Stewart. "He didn't have to help me, but went out of his way to do so. He is a man of his word who goes above and beyond to help students."
Gaining a mentor was especially meaningful for Stewart who did not have any male role models to assist him and provide encouragement. "I was shunned for being a bad kid and had my wings clipped at a young age," said Stewart. "That has been my motivation for many years, and why I want to help kids understand all the opportunities and resources available to them."
Stewart is already planning on earning a doctorate. "There is no doubt in my mind that I will be Dr. Stewart one day. I want to promote education—possibly as a dean of student services, and maybe one day open a center for at-risk youth."