“When I was a little girl, I loved going to school,” said Anayah Walker, Success Scholars program specialist. “Having teachers that were very passionate about me and what they did definitely had a huge impact on me.”
The Success Scholars program at The University of Tampa is designed for first-generation and/or underrepresented students. With over 350 students in the program, Walker facilitates events, workshops and oversees the Spartan Peers Educating about Resources (SPEARs) of the Success Scholars program.
Throughout her undergraduate studies, Walker was consistent and determined to be in education. Early in her time at Florida State University, one of the top schools in Florida, Walker declared a major in early childhood education.
“I thought I wanted to be a preschool teacher,” said Walker. “That ended up changing to elementary education, but I still wasn’t satisfied with that major. So I asked my guidance counselor for a bit more guidance, which led me to choosing a major in family and child science with a minor in education.
Early in her senior year, Walker started applying to jobs. After seeing the position for a staff assistant at The University of Tampa, she applied. “When I first saw the position, it read as a staff assistant for first-generation and historically excluded students, like myself.”
Aside from her teachers, Walker’s parents also had an impact on her chosen path.
“Seeing my parents work very hard to get to where they are always inspired me,” said Walker. “To be first-gen means neither one of your parents earned a bachelor’s degree, so even though they don’t always understand what I’m doing they are very proud of me”.
While working at UT, Walker earned her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Central Florida in 2019. She then moved up to be the program specialist of the Success Scholars Program.
Over the course of her time here at UT, Walker has been able to mentor the students in the Success Scholars program, as well as be a mentor to the SPEARs in the program.
“When many people think about first-generation students, they tend to focus on what they might not have, but I would say that they always come in very ambitious and hardworking,” said Walker. “They tend to come in very open-minded about experiences they can have while in university.”
Walker also teaches sections of BAC 101 and 102 at UT. However, when COVID-19 hit, teaching BAC classes became a challenge.
“When students have a mask on and are socially distanced, they are less motivated to raise their hand and be engaged”, said Walker. “As someone who likes to build relationships with students, that was certainly very challenging…it definitely helped me to develop my problem-solving skills and find ways to engage students in a virtual classroom as well as physical.”
Along with providing resources, Walker makes sure to provide an inclusive environment for all of the Success Scholars program’s students. For Black History Month, the program informs students about the different events that celebrate and highlight Black culture.
“Black History Month is a great time for me to reflect upon my experiences,” said Walker. “This is my fifth year of being at UT, and I can say that though there is a lot of work to be done, especially with the new chief diversity officer, UT is making the strides they need to make.”
Before our interview started, Walker had asked me about my own journey with graduating and finding a career. As we finished the interview, I noticed she had begun to type and search her computer. “I’ve been searching for jobs as we speak,” said Walker. “You never know what’s out there if you don’t look.”