By Diane Gasper-O’Brien
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. – Experiences during her college career at Fort Hays State University set a solid foundation for life, says Deja Brewer.
A self-proclaimed shy person when she came to FHSU from Overland Park four years ago, Brewer became the first member of her family to graduate from college this May. She earned a bachelor of general studies degree while stepping out of her comfort zone on campus and found the courage to pursue her dream of attending culinary school.
Her new-found confidence came from the strength she gained while fighting through a rough patch when her younger sister lost her life-long battle with cystic fibrosis two years ago.
“That was a tough time for me, and my professors were so understanding,” Brewer said. “I couldn’t have asked for anyone more helpful to me. People at Fort Hays State really do care for you as a person.”
Brewer said she was able to do a lot of soul searching after her sister’s death, and “I realized I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do but what others thought I should do.”
Buoyed by that support, Brewer agreed her senior year to take on the role of president of the Black Student Union, an organization that had only 10 active members.
“Fort Hays State helped me learn how to make my own decisions,” Brewer said. “Even if I failed at something, I developed the confidence to try again. I’ll take that with me the rest of my life.”
The BSU flourished under her leadership, and membership tripled to 31 members. Despite being forced to cancel some of its spring activities because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Student Union was chosen by the Center for Student Involvement and the Office of Student Affairs as the most improved student organization on campus for 2019-20.
Brewer said as a leader, she called on some life skills she learned in her general studies major.
“With that route, we were able to pick a lot of electives. I learned about so many new things,” she said, naming subjects such as photography, ceramics and interior design as some of her favorites.
She paused and laughed, adding “I even learned how to sew.”
One of those life skills Brewer made good use of as the BSU president was building bridges by collaborating with other campus organizations on various projects and events.
In an effort to build a more vivid, stronger presence on campus, Brewer sought out Nuchelle Chance – a strong, gung-ho faculty member – and asked her to serve as the organization’s advisor.
“I told her that I came from an undergraduate experience where our BSU was really robust,” said Chance, an instructor in the Department of Psychology. “I told her I was expecting a lot of work.”
Brewer didn’t disappoint. She helped organize events ranging from tailgating at a Tiger football game, community service projects involving children and social mixers, to a spring semi-formal dance.
“This experience has really helped her to blossom,” said Chance, who was chosen as FHSU’s student organization advisor of the year. “This is all about pushing my students to greatness. She is extremely resilient, and I’m very, very proud of Deja.”