Everyone, meet Aric Fulton—a first-generation college student and a rising Journalism Education senior from Chicago.
Aric is the kind of student who thrives on challenges—always on the lookout for growth opportunities and ways to make a positive impact. Just this past year, he represented Ball State at the Forbes Under 30 Summit, presented his own research at the National Council for Black Studies, and ran as presidential candidate for the Student Government Association (SGA). He was also named the 2019-20 recipient of the Dr. Charles Payne Olive Branch Award, and received the Merrell T. Marshall Scholarship by the Office of Inclusive Excellence.
We virtually met with Aric to take a “behind-the-scenes” look at his Ball State journey, discuss what hides behind his impressive list of accomplishments, and hear the defining experiences that led him to where he is today.
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Why did you choose to study at Ball State?
I am a first-generation college student. I knew little about college admissions or application process but I got accepted in many schools. Drake University in Des Moines, IA was one of the schools I was really considering but I was very scared to be so far away from my family as Iowa is five hours from home.
I knew that Ball State had great programs in journalism and communication, and my cousin happened to be studying there, too. That’s why I picked Ball State. I actually never visited the campus before moving to Muncie!
I still remember the day I got accepted to Ball State. I had a pretty cool science teacher who let me call to check my application status in class. I had been calling for weeks and when I finally heard that I got in, I was literally jumping up and down in the classroom. I didn’t really know what I was excited for or what to expect attending Ball State.
How did your freshman experience turn out to be?
If I am being honest, I did not like my first year at Ball State because I did not feel connected. I realized later that did not make enough efforts to get to know more people in the Ball State community.
If I could go back in time to meet freshman Aric, I would tell him to put himself out there and meet new people. After all, College is the space to make mistakes and to figure out what you like. I would tell freshman Aric to stop taking the easy way out by going home every single weekend. Ball State is the place where you are going to spend the next four years of your life — why not try to meet people and grow as a student, and a person?
You are a major in journalism education. Can you walk us through the journey that led you to that major?
Growing up, watching the news is what allowed me to stay past my bed time because my parents and grandparents thought it was informative. I remember that in middle school and high school, I would never miss the ABC Chicago 10 pm newscast. I had to be home by 10 pm to watch the news! A dream of mine had always been to be a news anchor. So, when I first declared my major, I chose the news concentration.
One thing that made me change my mind about that major was the foreign language requirement. I did my orientation a little late so the only foreign language courses I could take were French and Mandarin. I went for French. In high school, I didn’t have to take any foreign languages so this was my very first encounter with a foreign language. Needless to say, it was a challenging experience. After talking to my advisor, I realized there was no way to get out of that requirement. I didn’t want my GPA to suffer because of that so I knew I had to change my major.
I then talked to [Journalism faculty] Brian Hayes, Dan Waechter and Kim Green and started considering the journalism education major instead. My department enabled me to take experimental classes so that if I wanted to go back to journalism, I would not be behind. That’s when I enrolled in my first education courses. I quickly felt that those classes allowed to connect my K-12 journey, conceptualize and contextualize it. Everything started to make a lot of sense. I started to become aware of the social inequalities in education. I knew I wanted to be part of the change to ensure that all students have access to opportunities in post-secondary education, and connect with teachers that care.
What was also great about changing my major to journalism education is that all the credits that I had taken in news still counted toward the new degree. Another great thing is that I am finishing a year early and so my senior year, I will be taking graduate courses.
Looking back, if I didn’t have that experience with French, I would not be on the path I am on today. Growing up, I would play “school” with my siblings. I would be the teacher and I would make worksheets for them so I guess I always had it in me even though I didn’t know it then!
I would tell freshman Aric to stop taking the easy way out by going home every single weekend. Ball State is the place where you are going to spend the next four years of your life — why not try to meet people and grow as a student, and a person?
What have been the top highlight of your higher education journey so far?
It is hard to choose only one highlight. One thing for sure is that my junior year was the best year for me.
One of my top highlights was meeting Dr. Beverly Tatum [Ball State’s Unity Week Martin Luther King Day speaker] and sitting right beside her during dinner was intimidating, but seriously cool at the same time. One thing that stood out to me about our conversation was when I told her I wanted to go to an Ivy League School but I was scared to apply. She told me, “Don’t tell yourself no before you give it a chance”. Hearing that made a huge difference in my in my life. For example, it guided me through my internship application process this spring. I knew I wanted an internship in DC and one of my first interviews ended one minute into the call when the interviewer asked me very specific questions I could not answer. However, I persisted and after two other No’s, I got an internship with the Post-Secondary National Policy Institute—an organization that I really care about and provides me with a lot of learning and networking opportunities.
If you could describe your Junior year in one word what would it be?
Can you explain why?
There’s this this is monologue by Solange Knowles. The whole time she keeps repeating, “do nothing without intention.” The core message is that life is so much better once you learn to be intentional about what and who you put your energy toward, and also about when and how you do it. I try to live by that principle every day — when I’m interacting with people or going places, I try to make sure that there is intention behind it so I am not wasting my time or other people’s time. My goal is to make the most out of what it is and I’m experiencing.
Sometimes things do seem pretty far-fetched. My approach is to turn things down one notch and see what I can do now to get to the next step. People think they need big platforms to impact change but I’d argue you can do it whatever stage you are in life. I pretty much started my leadership career started at Ball State as the Vice President of my Hall Council my freshman year. After that, I ran for president of my hall council. Then I ran to be a Residence Assistant (RA). In all those positions I was intentional about things I wanted to do and the things I wanted to connect with to bring an inclusive community and environment for my residents. Then after being a RA, I decided to run for Student Government Association (SGA). I didn’t win but every opportunity that I had had an opportunity for me to advocate for others.
Do nothing without intention. When I’m interacting with people or going places, I try to make sure that there is intention behind it so I am not wasting my time or other people’s time.
Also, when I am thinking about what I can do next, I am always a bit scared because I think that I am not qualified to do it. That’s why it is very important to have people in your corner who are encouraging you and supporting you.
That segues nicely into my next question: who are your mentors and how did you find them?
I’m always looking for someone I can learn from — Someone who has had experiences I can only dream of. My top three mentors are:
- Dr Marsha Mc Griff, our Associate Vice President for Inclusive Excellence. When I found out she got the position at Ball State last Summer, I emailed her to introduce myself which led to a call. Later, she also became my PhD Pathways mentor.
- John Anderson, Assistant Lecturer of Sociology. I love the way he teaches. After one of his classes, I remember I asked to borrow one of the books on his desk. This led to us talking about his research. He ended up guiding me through my own research on the black experience at Ball State. Every Monday, for an entire semester, we spent an hour at the library working on it. This enabled me to present at the National council of black studies in Atlanta this past March.
- Emily Rutter, Associate Professor of English and Assistant Director of the African American Study program. I submitted a paper once and she said something that stuck with me, “this is graduate school material.” This meant a lot coming from her. Undergraduate studies already scared me but after she said that, I started looking for opportunities to further my educational journey in grad school.
Final question: how do you keep the momentum going?
I am a first-generation college student and I have four younger siblings. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone who had a college degree or an actual career. I feel there is a need for Black people in education—teachers, administrators, policy makers—and I feel it is my responsibility to fill that need so people who come after me have a better experience. We are seeing that this is needed now more than ever. That’s what keeps me going.