Fort Valley State University student Arielle Thompson is not a quitter. Despite challenges throughout her life, the 23-year-old senior history major said it only fired her will to stay the course.
“Never allow gravity or naysayers to pull you down,” Thompson. “Continue to rise no matter what the circumstance may be.”
Thompson said motivation to overcome challenges was instilled in her as a child. The oldest sibling of four, Thompson said she learned resiliency while caring for her younger brother, Ashaun, who was born with a birth defect called Prune Belly Syndrome (also known as Eagle-Barrett syndrome). Characterized by the partial or complete absence of abdominal muscles, the rare disease can cause complications such as chronic renal failure.
“I would do anything for my siblings,” said Thompson, a Lawrenceville, Ga. native. “He (Ashaun) underwent his first kidney transplant when he was five years old.”
Thompson attended Archer High School in Gwinnett County. Although she had considered another Georgia institution first, her plans changed when her college entrance exam test scores didn’t quite hit the required mark. Her older cousin, Justin Miller, encouraged her to visit Fort Valley State University during Kappa Week in 2011. At the time, her cousin was the president of the Gamma Zeta Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.
“I didn’t have an impression of Fort Valley State because I’d never come to the school prior to my visit. I’d never seen black students getting together in that capacity before,” Thompson said. “It was great.”
Thompson followed her cousin’s recommendation and enrolled at Fort Valley State University in 2011.
Thompson said her time at FVSU hasn’t been without personal challenges. During her freshman year, her brother Ashaun was once again facing a health crisis. Due to his end-stage renal failure, he would need another kidney transplant. To help her parents while her brother was hospitalized, Thompson remained close to home to care for her younger sisters, Annecia and Anaya.
With the help of FVSU alumnus Glorie Chiza ’13, in June 2014, Thompson interned with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund at Tennessee State University, in Nashville. At the time, Chiza was serving as the program coordinator for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s Opportunity Funding Corporation.
“The internship was for people who wanted to become educators, and the program would help you master the STEM fields,” Thompson said. “Science was a little out of my realm, because I am a social studies (history major), so it was an eye-opening experience.”
Later that summer, her brother found a matching organ donor, and underwent a kidney transplant in August 2014. Around that time, the young woman considered creating a new TMCF internship to help aspiring educators prepare for the teaching profession.
In November 2014, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund invited Thompson to present a workshop about appearance and wardrobe during their leadership institute.
They also approved her idea for the new internship. Thompson served as the first intern for the program and stayed for three weeks in Houston, Tex. during the summer of 2015.
Thompson also served as Fort Valley State University’s Campus Activities Board president. The student said that her time at FVSU and her internship with the TMCF caused her to change career plans.
“I originally wanted to teach when I first enrolled,” Thompson said, “but as I continued at Fort Valley State, I realized that I wanted to help more students, and I couldn’t do that in a classroom setting. I want to be in acquisition in human resources, and select top teachers.
In 2015, Thompson said she weathered another storm when her parents divorced. The ordeal left her stronger, she said.
“My mother was my backbone through everything,” Thompson said. “She’s always said that no matter what, ‘I will always have you. I will have your back.’ Her voice and words always go through my head when I’m going through anything. Luckily, I can always call my mom and she’ll answer.”
Thompson also stated that she considers her professors at Fort Valley State and her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters to be a second family.
Whenever she needs help, she is able to reach her professors, especially associate professor of history Dr. Dawn Herd-Clark; associate professor of political science Dr. Meigan Fields; FVSU administrator Chewan Evans; and Kena Torbert, FVSU family life specialist.
“I’ve had a very good experience attending Fort Valley State,” Thompson said. “I love the family atmosphere on campus and I love the school pride. The students and professors look out for you. If you are hungry, they’ll feed you. If you have an interview, need clothing, the faculty and staff will ask you what is your size and help you out.”
“I’ve learned a lot about myself and matured as a woman,” Thompson continued.
“These challenges changed me as a person, to make me realize that when things go wrong, you can’t just quit, you have to keep going,” the student said. “It definitely encouraged me to keep pushing forward.”
Christina D. Milton, public relations specialist
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