It could have been easy for Melissa Lucas to feel overwhelmed as a freshman upon her arrival at the University of San Diego in Fall 2007. It’s pretty normal for any student transitioning from high school to college to experience some kind of adjustment period.
But Lucas, a Mortar Board member who has enjoyed academic success from the get-go, has spent a semester in Washington D.C. and wrote a grant proposal for $1,500 — which officials awarded her idea more than three times that amount — geared to build confidence in USD female students during the sorority recruitment process, isn’t the norm.
“She’s exceptional,” said Mandy Womack, director of student organizations and USD’s Greek Life, of the senior. “She’s just a remarkable young woman. She’s always been poised, unflappable, thoughtful and confident.”
Erin Lovette-Colyer, director of USD’s Women’s Center, called Lucas (pictured), who has worked in the center for three semesters, “a woman with a strong sense of her values and what she’s been able to do is unique. She has so many espousing values and it has been a role model for other women. She’s not only in line with the values of the university but she’s modeled what they look like in action. The university will be honored to say that she’s an alumna.”
Lucas will graduate in May with degrees in Communication Studies and Political Science. In the four years she’ll have been at USD, Lucas has been blessed with experiences that have shaped her development as a person and empowered her as a woman.
“I only do things I’m really passionate about,” said Lucas, a first-generation student from Bakersfield, Calif. “I’ve wanted to take full advantage of every opportunity I’ve had through USD.”
Since USD students can’t be in Greek Life the first semester of their freshman year, she focused on academics, earning a 4.0 GPA. Lucas did join the Ambassadors Club, a program that assists undergraduate students. She joined the Alpha Delta Pi sorority her second semester and USD’s Alcalá Club, the latter comprised of students who serve as official university representatives for school-related events such as special masses and Alumni Honors.
She maintained her academic success as a sophomore and was chosen as a Global Scholar with the chance to go to The Washington Center in Washington D.C. Lucas spent the fall semester of her junior year in the nation’s capitol as a full-time intern with the Peace Corps. She lived with international students — her roommates were from Brazil, South Africa and Singapore — and participated in a leadership training program on international development. She did a direct studies class with Michael J. Williams, PhD, associate professor in USD’s Department of Political Science and International Relations.
“Melissa is one of the best students we’ve ever sent to The Washington Center,” said Dr. Williams, who was coordinator of USD’s program with the center for 10 years before assuming his current role as department chair of Political Science and International Relations. “The work she did there was excellent. She was a great ambassador for USD.”
The Washington D.C. trip was a life-changing experience, she said. Moreover, in some ways, it became a catalyst for a grant proposal, titled “Confidence U,” that could serve as her USD legacy.
Lucas was named USD Panhellenic Council President during the D.C. trip. The organization, which oversees all six national sorority chapters at USD, “promotes superior scholarship, leadership development and dissemination of information important to women in general.”
She jumped at the chance to put her leadership skills to work — for others. Womack told Lucas about a grant opportunity through Kappa Delta’s National Chapter and Confidence Coalition, a non-profit organization. Lucas, who was already working in the USD Women’s Center, put together a proposal based on the grant’s criteria for something to build confidence in women.
“The proposal was to create a welcoming space for women participating in sorority recruitment in the Women’s Center and the United Front Multicultural Center,” Womack said. “The space at USD allowed women to re-group in the midst of a challenging process while renewing their belief in who they are as valuable members of the community. This concept/space was piloted last year and this grant allowed us to expand our new tradition.”
Lucas authored the proposal for $1,500 and Womack submitted it. When word came in December 2010 that the proposal netted $5,000, everyone was thrilled. “It was amazing. It exceeded all expectations,” said Lucas, who credited the support of Womack, Lovette-Colyer and Breyn Hibbs, a graduate assistant in the Women’s Center, and other USD organizations that participated.
Lucas said she felt the program, run during the January sorority recruitment period, was a success. Women had access to healthy snacks, could relax on couches in the Women’s Center lounge and there were support systems in place from USD organizations within the Student Life Pavilion and University Center.
Lovette-Colyer said the Women’s Center’s participation allowed it to develop a stronger connection with sororities on campus. “I think it had a significant impact and enabled us to work closer with Panhellenic. This is a program we’re committed to continuing,” she said. “The grant also informed us of ways to do things during other months of the academic year.”
Some bonus money was spread beyond the campus, Lucas said. Valentines were sent to a local shelter for women who have experienced partner violence. Care packages were sent to women in the military, specifically USD alumna with a connection to their respective sororities. Lucas, who will attend San Diego State to pursue a master’s degree in communications this fall, said she hopes additional grant funds will develop programs to help more young women entering college build a community within themselves.
“Confidence, to me, is to be comfortable in who you are — even in situations where people may not always accept who you are,” she said.
— Ryan T. Blystone