Leadership natural for senior speaker

 

When Sydney Nelson addresses her fellow graduates at the 2012-13 Spring Commencement Ceremony, she will complete a trifecta; the final piece to a puzzle, which includes speaking at her middle school and high school graduations.

Solving this puzzle has led Nelson on an undergraduate career across the campus and the world.

“As a student who took advantage of every single opportunity, resource, leadership position, networking potential and volunteer experience that Whitewater provided, I can’t just focus on one thing that means the most to me,” Nelson said.  “Each and every one of those things that I have done has contributed to who I am as a person.”

For Nelson, being a role model for her peers began before she ever set foot on Whitewater soil.  

Frieda Briscoe, director of the Minority Business Program, remembers responding to Nelson via email in the June before she came to campus as a freshman.  Nelson applied for the Summer Business Institute, which is a transitional program for new students, and was accepted.

Once the pair met, Briscoe was immediately impressed by Nelson’s communication skills as a freshman, and that admiration four years ago has blossomed into an important relationship for Nelson.

“She doesn’t have barriers that interfere with her goals,” Briscoe said. “Sydney is very good at visualization.  She sees the end result, and everything she does has a purpose.  It all fits into her master plan, and she never takes her eye off it.”

Briscoe is the adviser for the National Association of Black Accountants, an organization that Nelson has served as the vice president and president.

“She has been my resource for all things professional,” Nelson said.  “Without her, I can truly say I would not be in the position I am today.”
When Nelson came for a tour, she still remembers how engaging and lively the campus assistant was, a position she found herself fulfilling later in her career.

“I think the general atmosphere when you step on this campus makes you feel like you are home,” Nelson said.

Nelson admitted once she had decided to come to UW-Whitewater, she was on the website for hours every single day, looking at all the different organizations that she could insert herself into upon arrival.  She prides herself on always having a plan, but she did not limit herself in the business world of the university.

Despite being an accounting major with a Spanish minor, Nelson was extensively involved in the America Reads program, where, after a few years, she served as a teaching assistant.  Nelson said this experience changed how she viewed her life, and it has been critical in her development.

“You are instrumental at their development at a young age,” she said.  “You are such a role model, and you have to be conscientious of your persona while being in that environment.  It has translated to how I view my reputation on campus as a whole.  I am very aware of how others perceive me.”

Even though Nelson knew she wanted to major in accounting, she had two goals.

First, she wanted to break the stereotype of accountants who are often closed off and always in front of their computer.

Second, she said she believes the whole purpose of a college education is not only studying your intended major, but all the experiences that surround your four or five years.

“I truly don’t believe that people who go to college, take classes in their major, graduate with 4.0 and don’t do anything else are successful,” Nelson said.  “I don’t think until people step outside their comfort zone and challenge themselves do they develop into better human beings.”

Nelson credits the source of her motivation to helping the people who come after her.  She learned this first hand in her time with NABA while attending regional and national conferences.

“Seeing those individuals being extremely successful, not only in their professional or personal lives, but turning around and making connections with the next generation to make sure they are following their lead,” Nelson said.

She has taken NABA’s motto and applied it to her own life’s philosophy; lifting as we climb.

Nelson has been lifting UW-Whitewater students in a variety of ways, whether it be volunteering in incoming freshman programs, giving tours as campus assistant or putting together floor programs as a resident assistant.

“I really try to set a prime example of what people can be if they just have the right mindset,” Nelson said.  “I am not saying I am the best or amazing.  I am really trying to showcase to underclassmen that with the right mindset, network and motivation you can do anything you want to do.”

Regardless of the detailed journey Nelson had planned for herself, traveling abroad was something that she did not expect to be so heavily involved in.

She has traveled to Ghana, El Salvador, Brazil, England, Ireland and China.  While pursuing  her Spanish minor, she completed an international internship in Mexico as a foreign exchange student.

Christine Clements, dean of the College of Business and Economics, has become close to Nelson during the past four years and recognizes her uniqueness.

“I think Sydney is really exceptional,” Clements said.  “A [student like] Sydney rolls along every five to ten years.  It has to do with the number and extent of the kinds of involvement.  We have a lot of exceptional students on campus, but the kind of breadth of Sydney’s activities is not common.”

Nelson will return to finish her master’s degree at UW-Whitewater and will continue to have the mindset of lifting as she climbs.  A journey that, if it is anything like her undergraduate career, will be bright and full of success.