Student Success Spotlight: Sammi Nelson

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September 30 , 2021

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It’s a long way from Massachusetts. But when Sammi Nelson received a full gymnastics scholarship to the University of Arkansas, the offer was too good to refuse, even if it meant moving several states away from her New England home.

“I grew to love Arkansas – all aspects of it – from the warm, welcoming people, the natural beauty, to the opportunities that Northwest Arkansas has to offer,” Nelson says.

She also loves seeing students evolve professionally as they participate in programs offered through the Student Success office at the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Some of those success stories are often untold, she says.

“It could be the student has learned a new skill, or it could be them landing an internship or full-time job,” Nelson says. “I have seen students become more confident and grounded as an individual during their time here at Walton.”

A graduate of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Nelson was recently appointed associate director of Student Success. She succeeds Catherine Beasley, who is now director of employer relations at the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences.

One way Nelson gets the word out about Walton’s Student Success programs is through Freshman Business Connections, which she teaches. In this introductory business class, she talks about Students Achieving Milestones (S.A.M.), a career-readiness program that prepares students for life during and after college. This program was built upon 12 career readiness competencies that were decided based on feedback from employers, various board members, faculty, and national standards as important attributes the students must possess before entering the workforce. Part of this program entails students completing various tasks and activities while earning badges. These badges include career management, tech readiness, diversity and inclusion, awareness and business integrity, for example.

Once students have completed their Freshman Business Connections class, they earn their first badge. The students, throughout their freshman year, will continue earning badges. As sophomores and juniors, they may apply for Leadership Walton through the S.A.M. program. Leadership Walton provides undergraduate students with a career readiness roadmap through a series of badges as well as exclusive opportunities for its members. The badges are divided out by year as a sequence to help students stay on track. “When a student earns a badge, and showcases it on their LinkedIn profile, employers will be able to see what competency the student values and the soft and hard skills they are strengthening.” Nelson says.

Leadership Walton offers a blend of academic leadership and career development opportunities specifically designed to benefit students well beyond college. Those opportunities include networking with employers and corporate sponsors, invitations to off-site company visits and priority for select scholarship funding.

When Nelson arrived at Fayetteville, it was dramatically different from her hometown of Peabody, located about 20 miles northeast of Boston, and was established before the Revolutionary War with still-standing buildings from the 17th and 18th century serving as reminders. That Nelson would feel at home in Northwest Arkansas surprised her. In addition to receiving a warm welcome, she fell in love with the hills – there are few where she’s from – as well as the small-town feeling.

“Growing up, I had a rigorous schedule with gymnastics practice, school and volunteering, which limited my ability to enjoy nature and its natural beauty,” Nelson says. “We didn’t have easy access to go hiking or to go to Kansas City. Northwest Arkansas offers easy access to many things.”

After graduating from Walton, Nelson earned a master’s degree in recreation and sports management at the University of Arkansas. She briefly worked as a wedding and rental coordinator before shifting her career focus to higher education. She returned to Walton, which nurtured her new love and passion as well as provide her the opportunity to make an impactful difference in college students’ lives.

Now, she wants everyone to know what the Student Success office offers.

“We’re here,” Nelson says. “We are a fairly new office making our mark to further impact Walton College of Business students. Our goal for this year is to increase awareness that the Student Success office is a resource and to further develop the Students Achieving Milestones program.”

When the students complete the S.A.M. program, Nelson gets to see them receive their diplomas; the Student Success office oversees Walton commencement.

For those just getting started with Student Success’ programs, Nelson shares a motto she saw not long ago: “Life can be a crazy, wild fast ride, but it’s a beautiful one that’s yours to live.”