Relationships Matter: How Connecting With the Right People Helped Me Succeed in College

Networking is important. But how exactly can it help you? One student shares how his connections have provided him with new opportunities as an undergrad.
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When I first arrived at Ithaca College, I thought the campus was so much bigger than it actually was. It seemed like there were 10,000 students. I remember asking myself, "How would I, out of all these people, leave a mark on this campus?" I felt so small and unattached.

The truth is, that feeling doesn't last long!

But if I'm being honest, I felt out of place at first. As a first-generation college student attending a predominantly white institution (PWI), I felt pressure to go above and beyond. After all, I wasn't starting my first semester with a lot of tools in my toolbox compared to other students.

I'd never had a hard time connecting or networking with people, but college was a different ball game. The high school I attended was also a PWI, and though it was pretty diverse, I was still in the minority.

I came to my high school in mid-January in ninth grade. It was the biggest public school in the area, with 1,000 students in my class alone.

My family was nervous about putting me in a public school, but it turns out a fellow church member we knew was actually the superintendent of the school. So my family talked to him — then took a leap of faith and enrolled me.

Throughout my four years at that high school, I got involved in extracurriculars and was offered many opportunities. For example, I got to present to the New York State Bar Association with my superintendent and principal about gun control and school safety.

All of these opportunities allowed me to develop a strong relationship with my superintendent. During my senior year of high school, I was privileged to have him write a letter of recommendation for my college applications.

"I'd never had a hard time connecting or networking with people, but college was a different ball game. The high school I attended was a predominantly white institution, and though it was pretty diverse, I was still in the minority."

Quotation mark

Fast forward to my first week of college classes. One day, I ended up walking with a friend to a building she wanted to go to, just to look around.

Not too long after entering the building, a woman came out of a room and greeted us. When I introduced myself, the woman said, "I know you. You're Oliver's boy." Oliver was my superintendent!

I chuckled and said, "Oh, wow, yes. You know him?"

She laughed. "Well, we're cousins."

I was so surprised. What a small world, I thought. I was even more shocked when I found out that the woman I was speaking to was the director of admissions at Ithaca.

From that moment on, every time I saw the director, she would remind me to let her know if I ever needed anything. She even said her husband, who also worked at the college and was a first-gen student, could lend me a hand with anything I needed.

Not only did she verbalize her support, but she has continued to reach out and congratulate me on my achievements since coming to campus.

Additionally, she's given me several opportunities to do what I love, which is to share my college journey with hundreds of new and prospective students and their families.

The day I met her was the day I realized how pivotal it is to form the right connections. I never would've thought a connection I formed in high school could have benefited me so much throughout my years as an undergrad.

The same day I met the director, my friend and I headed to another building. As we talked, I realized a man was sitting in the corner. He was tall and wearing a nice suit. I thought, "He looks really important." Eventually, we ended up talking to the man.

Déontae gives a speech to Ithaca's campus community as part of the All College Welcome event. Image Credit: Natalie Daffinee

He asked us what year we were. We told him we were first-year students, and he seemed intrigued. After our conversation, as he prepared to leave, he gave us his card. He told us his name and said if we were ever looking for a job to contact him.

As it turns out, he was the president of the college's facilities department. I was amazed because my friend and I were both looking for a job!

Before he left, he asked us how we thought the facilities department was doing and whether there was anything we needed. At the time, I was looking to get my bed raised. But because all the new students had just moved in, facilities had a lot of requests.

I told him my request and he ended the conversation by saying if there was anything he could do to let him know.

When I got back to my room about 10 minutes later, facilities had already come and raised my bed. I didn't believe it! As a first-year student, I thought that was the coolest thing in the world.

As I've grown and matured, I've come to cherish not just these two relationships but so many more. I look back at myself in my first year of college — how I walked into the unknown essentially all by myself.

But now, as I prepare to say goodbye to my undergraduate experience, I'm leaving with a large network and support system.

The folks I've met on campus have supported me and let me know I'm not alone. They've helped me see that there's always someone on campus who cares. They've even provided me comfort. Being away from home was hard at first, but these people did their best to make my campus feel like home.

It's important as first-generation students — and more importantly as students of color — to add as many things as we possibly can to our toolboxes. And one way to do this is to not be afraid to form connections with others.

Meet the Author

Portrait of Déontae Guy

Déontae Guy

Déontae Guy is a senior at Ithaca College pursuing a bachelor of science in sociology with a minor in counseling. His life goals are to counsel and coach students toward successful academic lives. He is very active on campus, working with public safety as a student auxiliary safety patrol member and with information technology as a student manager. He also served as president of the student body for Ithaca's student government council during his junior year.