His desire to be a mentor and push students to new heights led him to the doors of the Byrne Student Success Center. Kelley O’Neal recently began his position as the Center’s newest director.
“I see a lot of students who really have the ability to get their college education but they do not have the confidence in themselves or there is no one there to encourage them. They do not know how to continue moving forward when they run into a problem. I want to be able to help them navigate those situations.”
O’Neal’s career began in a third grade classroom after graduating from Houston Baptist University. He eventually fell in love with student success and spent time leading a student success program at Brazosport College before becoming director of student success at Houston Baptist University.
O’Neal credits his success in helping students to his story – a story similar to that of many students on the Texas A&M campus. O’Neal is a first generation college student, grew up in a single parent home and is an African-American male.
“All those checkmarks that the experts would write down for people that might not be successful in college – I had them all,” explained O’Neal. “Helping those students understand that I came from the same situation that you come from. Some of the difficult situations that you encounter – I have already encountered so I can help you through that. I want to build that mentoring relationship and build that trust relationship with students.”
Those students are a top priority for O’Neal. He wants to build a first generation program for the College of Education and Human Development. The goal is for future teachers to learn as much as they can about first generation college students to start building up those students at the K-12 level.
O’Neal’s first priority, however, is making sure students know the Byrne Center is a resource – no matter their academic situation.
“If they come here, they are going to get the information they need to be successful whether it is tutoring, a question about how to interact with a professor or a question about financial aid. We may not know the answer but we are going to lead them directly to the person who can answer that question for them.”