Wherever he travels, Fort Valley State University senior Ceola Mitchell sees himself as the unofficial ambassador and representative for the campus. The former Wildcats football player tells anyone he can about the university’s academic programs and how the campus has changed his life for the better.
“I am the first person to stand up for Fort Valley State,” he said. “If you actually look to find the positive about Fort Valley State University, you’ll find it.”
Mitchell first learned about Fort Valley State from his aunt in childhood. In high school, Mitchell played as a running back for his high school football team. He had dreams of becoming a professional football player in the NFL.
“In high school, I dabbled in other sports, but I love football,” the 22-year-old student said.
The Hiram, Ga. star athlete said he received many offers from coaches and talent scouts looking to recruit him to play for their campus. Those dreams changed when Mitchell’s left knee was severely injured during a football game.
“I still remember that game like it was yesterday,” Mitchell said. The athlete underwent surgery for his injury. Afterward, the offers from other schools began drying up. While Mitchell was undergoing rehabilitation, his head coach told him that Fort Valley State made him an offer to try out for the Wildcats football team. He considered it, but his Aunt Ilean Nelson, an FVSU alum that attended school in the 1990s, strongly encouraged him to go.
“My aunt Ilean is one of the biggest alumni supporters of Fort Valley State,” Mitchell said. “She comes back for every FVSU Homecoming game and gave me paraphernalia from campus. My aunt said if I decided to play football for an NFL team, that FVSU had more people playing and staying in the NFL, than other Division II schools within Georgia. She said that not only did FVSU have a great athletics program, that I would receive a great education from the campus too. She told me that Fort Valley State is what you make of it.”
Mitchell began playing for the Wildcats as a running back in 2013. He left the team in 2015.
The student, who is earning his bachelor’s degree in biology, said adjustment to college life was a little tough, as he learned how to balance his social life with athletics and his studies.
“I actually got distracted a lot and almost allowed the night life to take over rather than to do my studies,” Mitchell said. “I had to turn that around. Now, I see that attending a university is like a business: you are here to learn.”
He said Fort Valley State professors have helped him to make the adjustment. The student said he had no idea how great the academic programs, especially biology and chemistry, were before he stepped onto campus.
“Fort Valley State is more family oriented than other campuses. At other schools, you have to schedule an appointment to see a professor,” Mitchell said. “If you have a question, you have to speak with a teacher’s assistant. But here, you can go straight to a professor to talk to them and speak with them right away and schedule a study session with them. For example, if I see my chemistry professor, Dr. James Mack, inside the hall at the ACL Building, I can ask him questions about inorganic chemistry and he’ll work with me (and other students) during one-on-one study sessions in the second floor lobby to help us understand a chemistry concept, or how to write the structures of certain molecules in inorganic chemistry.”
Mitchell also credits FVSU associate professor of chemistry, Dr. Tiffany M. Holmes, and assistant professor of biology, Dr. Celia Dodd, and professor of biology Dr. Fred McLaughlin for mentoring him.
“On FVSU’s campus, professors are more like your aunts and uncles who care about your future,” Mitchell said.
In 2013, Mitchell got involved in the science club and the NAACP. The student was named Mr. Science Club in 2014. Last year, during the campus’s official Research Day, Mitchell presented research on Computational Chemistry.
Mitchell worked a number of jobs to help support his college education, including working at the Ross Dress for Less retail store and UPS. A roommate helped Mitchell to get hired by a church for a summer job as an assistant physical education coach for its Summer Enrichment Academy in 2013. He stayed with the program until 2015.
Mitchell is continuing to take advantage of many of the mentoring, academic and student life programs that FVSU offers.
“Fort Valley State has a lot of opportunities, especially if you talk to the right people,” Mitchell said. “My advice is to other students is to not be afraid or too stubborn to get out of your comfort zone to network with other students. Be friendly and talk to someone you see on campus, because they can be the key to getting you a job or a position in another state,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes, if I see a person from FVSU in a different state, we talk and catch up.”
Mitchell, who is also a musician, plays drums for his church, The First Seventh Day Adventist Church. From 2011-2012, he was also a member of the percussion section of the Blue Machine Marching Band from 2011 to 2012, before transitioning back to football in 2013.
The 22-year-old student will graduate in Fall 2016 with his bachelor’s degree in biology. He plans to enter graduate school to earn a master’s degree in public health and a Ph.D. in physical therapy.
Christina D. Milton, public relations specialist
Marketing and Communications
(478) 825-6319, firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Fort Valley State University
Fort Valley State University is ranked among America’s best public institutions in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. The university’s diverse population boasts nearly 3,000 students from all corners of the world. FVSU maintains exceptional undergraduate and graduate degree offerings in a variety of academic fields. These include, but are not limited to, agriculture, science, technology, engineering, education and mathematics; as well as programs for high-achievers: Cooperative Developmental Energy Program (CDEP), Honors Program, Undergraduate Research Program and University Today Scholar’s Program. FVSU students enjoy more than 80 academic, civic organizations and several honor societies. Study abroad opportunities are also available. FVSU is an 1890 land-grant institution within the University System of Georgia, and a member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and NCAA Division II league. Learn more by visiting www.FVSU.edu.