Success Stories

Student finds success with DOD

Cornelius Hicks

Cornelius Hicks did not have very high hopes for getting into college because he did not have an ACT score, a component that universities value as a major factor in admittance for new students. Hicks knew he had what it took to go to college and was determined to make it to his top choice: Grand Valley.

Hicks proved everyone wrong when he was admitted into the Freshman Academy at GVSU, a program that offers services to students who have demonstrated a strong potential for academic success in college. The academy helped Hicks be admitted to Grand Valley and launched him on an amazing journey that ultimately changed the course of his future. 

Hicks began to face challenges in college that he had never experienced before such as class loads, time management, and being a student of color in a majority community. In order to overcome these challenges, Hicks immersed himself in the Grand Valley culture by joining the student organization C.L.O.U.D.N.I.N.E. and the fraternity Omega Psi Phi.

"Omega Psi Phi really helped me to find a place at Grand Valley," said Hicks, a Detroit native. "Through our community service activities I was able to learn more about the Grand Rapids area and more about myself as a person."

When Hicks declared his major as occupational health and safety, he thought he would be working in a factory or on a construction site making the environment safer for workers. However, a chance posting on LakerJobs lead him on a path that he least expected.

In the summer of 2009, Hicks spent four months in Washington, D.C., completing an internship with the U.S. Department of Defense, where he worked on health and safety inspections at the U.S. Army Headquarters. Not only was Hicks able to work with some of the top generals on President Obama's staff and visit national monuments, he was also able to practice his skills in safety training, industrial hygienist, and specialty inspections. 

"At first speaking and briefing top Army generals was very intimidating," Hicks said of his routine reports to Army staff about his work. "After a while I felt more comfortable and it ended up being fun to be in that type of environment."

Hicks' internship experience with the Department of Defense proved to be a truly beneficial one, as he was offered a position with them after graduation. Along with the internship, Hicks credits his experience and knowledge in the field to Grand Valley.

"Grand Valley has one of the top programs for occupational health and safety," said Hicks. "The professors have outside experience that they bring into the classroom and it really helped me prepare for what I would be dealing with in the profession."

In the future, Hicks plans to head back to his hometown of Detroit and give back to the community he grew up in, primarily focusing on helping to prepare young kids to go to college. 

"I was very lucky that Grand Valley gave me the opportunity to become a part of the Freshman Academy," Hicks said of his path towards college. "I want to be able to give youth that extra push to get into college that I didn't have."

Hicks plans to sign a two-year mobile agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense; he also plans to pursue a master's degree in industrial hygiene in the future. 

by Heather DeWitt