Join us in 2021 as we explore how College of Marin's (COM) Umoja program empowers students, promotes unity, and builds community and equity.
Faculty Spotlight: Troy Stevenson
COM Umoja Counselor Troy Stevenson was born and raised in Sonoma County. After high school, Stevenson first attended Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC). Being a first-generation college student, his parents struggled to help him navigate college. It was here that he first familiarized himself with the community college system.
“I was trying to figure out financial aid and everything else,” remembers Stevenson. “I was on the college basketball team and one of the EOPS [Extended Opportunity Programs and Services] counselors asked me, ‘are you first-generation? Do you need financial aid? Are you trying to transfer?’ And other questions. I said, ‘yeah!’ They told me I should check in with EOPS where I could get extra book grants and extra support. It just made sense, and it gave me the support I needed.”
Stevenson was required to check-in with an athletics counselor often to make sure things were going smoothly, especially since he wanted to transfer. From SRJC he went to Chico State, which he credits with honing his journalism skills. He majored in public relations and by the time he was ready to graduate, he decided to also get his master’s degree.
“I realized I was in my comfort zone at Chico. I saw all the same people and the same faces. It was one of my coaches who said in a very loud and demanding way during every practice, ‘Get out of your comfort zone!’ As a senior, I thought I’m not enthusiastic about pursuing the public relations industry – yet. I was excited about continuing my education on the east coast and getting out of my comfort zone. New York sounded too expensive. Boston sounded too cold. I had been to Washington, D.C., and I enjoyed researching history. So, I went out to Howard University and majored in Rhetoric and Intercultural Communications, thinking one day I would hopefully be working as a college basketball coach and working with people from different backgrounds.”
After graduating with his master’s degree, Stevenson came back to Santa Rosa and was hired at SRJC where he worked with the college basketball team. He talked with students and parents explaining how the college system worked, answering their questions, and giving them information on support services.
It was in this part-time position that he was offered a role in helping to develop SRJC’s Umoja program.
“Someone said, ‘There are these new learning communities that are popping up, one being Umoja. With your background, would you be interested in trying to help start this program?’ I said yes. I worked with a small team and we helped get the word out. We went to a training in San Diego where I actually met [COM Umoja and EOPS Counselor] Rinetta Early and [COM Instructor and Umoja Faculty] Walter Turner. We were thinking since we’re in close proximity, it would be good to network together.”
Many California community colleges were starting learning communities like Umoja during this time to provide students with additional support systems. Stevenson thought it would be a good time to transition to another college to gain additional responsibilities.
Stevenson started his position as COM’s Umoja Counselor in August 2015. He feels being a counselor has allowed him to bring together many of his interests. An extrovert at heart, he loves hearing people’s stories and enjoys supporting students in reaching their goals like his counselors at SRJC helped him.
Working with Umoja student-athletes has been a great fit with Stevenson’s background because of how well he relates to student-athletes and his familiarity with local coaches and teams.
“Recently, I had a meeting with a student I had never met before. He’s the head of a robotics club from Marin that competes at a state and national level. I was fascinated. I was asking him so many questions," says Stevenson. "Or sometimes I’ll talk with a student-athlete who is planning to transfer to a certain university or came from a local high school, and I’ll say, ‘oh, I know that coach.’”
He’s also incredibly good at listening and giving advice. Every day, while counseling students, he helps them make decisions and guides them towards new experiences that can help them succeed. He remembers meeting with one student, Chanelle Manning, for the first time.
“Chanelle had been at COM for a while,” recalls Stevenson. “When we met, she was at her breaking point—tears, crying. She was frustrated because college was taking longer than she thought. I remembered the next day there was the Umoja Northern California Symposium at UC Davis. I told her what Umoja was and invited her to come. She drove herself to the event and was inspired. At the symposium, she was around all these students that looked like her, talked like her, that she could network and connect with. It was so positive for her that she came back and wanted to take the Umoja classes and get more invested. She ended up being a big part of our team, getting paid as a team assistant.”
Stevenson continued, “My perspective of her is going from being at rock bottom when she started, to helping us out with events, to then meeting Angela Davis. I was watching her with the biggest smile taking a picture with Angela Davis, and I thought, ‘you’ve come a long way from that first day you were in my office. I’m glad this worked out.’”
In COM’s Umoja program, Stevenson also teaches one of the Umoja cohort classes on counseling. From financial aid opportunities to transferring to universities, he talks with students about all aspects of how to navigate the college system to help students reach their goals. Since his class is linked with an Umoja humanities or English class taught by COM Umoja Instructor Patricia France, he also has the opportunity to continue discussions that may spill over from her earlier class. It makes for a more in-depth and elevated learning experience.
Reflecting on how he got into his current career, Stevenson thinks back on how well he matched what he wanted to do with what he’s actually doing.
“This position is at the heart of what I enjoy. I want to help foster Black excellence at community college. I like being a part of a team and coaching students on reaching their goals, whether it be basketball-related or getting accepted to an HBCU,” states Stevenson. "It’s fun to see the growth of Umoja and where its developed. We’ve got some really good people on the team who are just trying help people reach their goals, support them, and make the world a better place.”
Find our first story on Umoja here.
Discover how College of Marin Umoja Community can help you succeed at marin.edu/umoja or support the COM Umoja program by donating. All donations go directly to the program and student scholarships and are tax-deductible.