When Erica Pickett-Renfro made the decision to transfer from a larger college to Clarion University at the beginning of her junior year, she was just a little nervous about the change.
"To be honest, I was very nervous," said the 2009 alumna, who graduated from Clarion University with a degree in Spanish with a minor in economics and Latin American and Caribbean studies. "The University of Delaware was a bigger school, and I felt insecure in a lot of ways going to Clarion because it was smaller. I was concerned about getting opportunities for my education."
Instead, Pickett-Renfro was pleasantly surprised to find out just how many educational opportunities would come her way during her junior and senior years at Clarion University.
Pointing to leadership experiences at Clarion University, the 27-year-old specifically credits these opportunities as ones that helped her personal and professional growth when facing the life after college graduation. "I had five opportunities in six months (to take leadership roles) at Clarion University," she said.
Her experiences included writing budget proposals and managing committees. She was also the head of the campus chapter of NAACP. "And that was my first taste of programming and managing a budget," said Pickett-Renfro "In fact, the budget I managed at Clarion was bigger than the first budget I managed at my current job."
It wasn't just professional opportunities that came her way.
"The largest classes at Clarion were the size of my smallest classes at the other school, so because of the class sizes at Clarion, I got to know the professors very well and by name," she said, recalling the long lines to talk to professors in her previous school experience. "In that (previous) environment, I was doing OK but I wasn't excelling ... with me, learning needs to be on a one-to-one basis, and that's what I got at Clarion."
She also appreciated the opportunity to build relationships with other students in her major of Spanish. "That was good because it lent itself to form study groups, things like that."
The highlight of her college career was her work as a Bakari Scholar (Bakari was an author who focused on global impact), developing a project about the global impact of music via a Hip Hop Symposium. "We won a campus award which was presented to us by Bill Clinton. We won over Ivy League schools including Harvard. For us to win that was huge," she said. She worked closely with Dr. Joanne Washington, who provided support during the development of the project. "Our goal was to put on a program, and we did. We also invited students from neighboring schools to view it, along with workshops and a movie."
Pickett-Renfro believes her Clarion experiences are connected directly to her professional success.
"I was a little concerned how I would be received by nonprofit America and corporate America," said the department specialist for adolescent programming at the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh. "I can say that Clarion prepared me and nurtured me personally so that when I was out, I could compete in the workforce. I had a lot of good experiences."
She recently created a curriculum for YWCA called Pep Girls, a science-based learning program for middle and high school girls focusing on STEM – science, technology, engineering and math.
"I was able to network and build relationships with neighboring schools and utilize their knowledge of technology with the help of my experiences at Clarion," Pickett-Renfro said.
"I would say to (incoming Clarion) students that they may be successful at a larger school, but I don't think they'd get the same experience. It's harder to get experiences in leadership at a larger school," she said. "Even if you feel like an average student, you get above average opportunities, which give you above average experience. When you get out in the real world, you are able to compete – not only compete, but compete and win."