“Being a first-generation student, FSU’s history has similar themes that echo through my life and inspire me as a member of a marginalized group.”
Senior Saleshia Ellis has always excelled as a leader. While attending Florida State University, she has used its invaluable opportunities to further develop her talents as a changemaker, maximize her potential and foster her desire to pursue a career positively affecting the lives of others.
Ellis, a first-generation college student, has overcome many obstacles, including the traumatic loss of her eldest brother while she was still in high school. She knew she needed a university that would make her feel secure and at home, while allowing her to grow and pursue her dreams.
After receiving a highly coveted spot in Florida State’s Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE) Program, Ellis knew FSU was the best fit for her. The CARE program provides necessary resources and support to help first-generation and underrepresented students flourish in a collegiate environment.
“Being a first-generation student, FSU’s history has similar themes that echo through my life and inspire me as a member of a marginalized group,” Ellis said. “The rich history and traditions shook my perspective and humbled me tremendously.”
The death of her brother due to the violence of their crime-ridden neighborhood in Fort Pierce, Florida, influenced Ellis’ passion for social justice and led her to double major in interdisciplinary social science and urban and regional planning.
“At first, I began to blame my crime-infested neighborhood for the passing of my brother,” Ellis said. “I came to FSU with the desire to gain an understanding of the interconnectedness of service, leadership and diversity and get to the root cause of why my brother was killed.”
Ellis has been a trailblazer on campus since her freshman year, serving in leadership roles across multiple organizations. She worked to unite the FSU student body through involvement in the Student Government Association, where she advocated for minorities to have a voice in spaces that are underrepresented. She also served as an orientation leader, where she was a positive role model for first-year students, and as chief of the Student and Greek Conduct Boards.
“This great university has not only given me the opportunity to build a better future for myself but also allowed me to appreciate my positionality and the importance of helping others,” Ellis said.
During her sophomore year, she delved into research as part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), where she conducted focus groups identifying the challenges black women face at institutions with predominately white populations. She also facilitated panels of experts, creating a vision and plan to increase the success of black women at FSU. Through her work, she sought to gain a deeper understanding of the obstacles black women face in the past and present.
Ellis’ research inspired her to collaborate with peers to develop a Black Female Initiative, designed to create sustainable change on FSU’s campus and beyond. She considers the initiative one of her greatest passions and refers to it as #Blackgirlmagic.
“The initiative will cultivate a culture of diversity and challenge black women to take on leadership roles with integrity, while striving toward a vision grounded in their innermost values,” Ellis said. “It also encourages faculty and staff to explore how they can better support our women and girls of color.”
Ellis also is a dedicated member of the FSU Service Scholar Program, a select group of 10 students who work as ambassadors and role models of service across FSU’s campus, as well as in local and global communities.
Laura Osteen, director of the FSU Center for Leadership & Social Change and adjunct professor at the College of Education, said Ellis’ genuine desire to improve the lives of others is what makes her a standout service scholar.
“Saleshia’s commitment to service is not simply in hours or tasks, it is in her way of being,” Osteen said. “She develops reciprocal relationships with others in order to understand the complexity and celebrate the magic of her community; it is from this place, a standpoint of commitment, knowledge and relationship that she engages in creating change.”
Ellis was a finalist for the President’s Undergraduate Humanitarian of the Year Award, which recognizes students who exhibit an extreme commitment to service. She has devoted more than 550 hours to impacting the lives of others through volunteering at a number of organizations.
“My community service has helped me to improve my faculties in hopes to become a formidable public policymaker, demonstrating how improving the relationship disadvantaged kids of color share with education benefits society as a whole,” Ellis said. “Community service is not just about saving lives, it’s about recognizing all lives and working to remedy their plight.”
Outside of her volunteer work and campus involvement, Ellis has held multiple internship positions. She worked at Impact America as a tax preparer to provide free tax services to underprivileged communities and Akbar Law Firm, where she learned about law and the systemic social injustices within the Tallahassee community. She also interned with the State of Florida Department of Environmental Protection to improve the living conditions of local communities throughout the state.
“During my time at FSU, this community and the people shared my passion,” Ellis said. “I am proud of being a part of so many teams within the Florida State community.”
Ellis’ academics have never taken a back seat to her countless hours of research, leadership in service and internship positions. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa and W.E.B. DuBois Honor Societies, which are scholarship programs dedicated to recognizing students’ academic achievement and community engagement. She has made the Dean’s or President’s list every semester.
After graduation, Ellis plans to earn a law degree and a master’s degree in urban planning, preferably at FSU. She ultimately hopes to pursue a career in public policy and work for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“I have learned a considerable amount through my education, and in addition to the urban and regional planning curriculum, my background experience as a service scholar has helped me in my personal development,” Ellis said. “As a planner, I intend to use my strong will across the world to influence underprivileged communities’ landscapes to help give them a chance to develop their unique skillsets as citizens.”
By Brooks Lockett, University Communications Intern
Produced by the offices of Information Technology Services, the Provost, Student Affairs, Undergraduate Studies and University Communications.