Topic: Online and Distance Learning

August 17, 2016

Between a demanding career in government, finishing up an online master’s degree, and directing a summer literacy program, Ball State graduate student Clifton Snorten has no shortage of responsibilities keeping him busy.

Clifton Snorten

Asked what advice he’d give college students, Clifton Snorten, a two-time graduate student at Ball State, said: “Be open to networking. Every major accomplishment or new thing that’s happened in my life has been the result of a relationship I’ve cultivated.

Still, when the opportunity arose to become president of the National Black Graduate Student Association (NBGSA) — a group Snorten has participated in as he’s pursued not one but two graduate degrees — he couldn’t turn it down.

“Ever since I joined, I’ve wanted to leave a mark on this organization because it’s given so much to me,” said the 30-year-old Indianapolis native. “I knew if I wanted to see things taken to the next level, I needed to be one of the leaders who would help make it happen.”

In June, Snorten attended a swearing-in ceremony with other executive members of NBGSA at Howard University in Washington, D.C. A few months into his presidential term, he’s already making progress toward getting more members actively involved, said Dava Hankerson Fedrick, a Florida State University doctoral candidate who, thanks to the organization, has become Snorten’s friend.

“After hearing from Clifton, watching him lead by example, dozens of members have stepped up to volunteer for leader positions and committees. He’s already led his team to accomplish more in one month than many other presidents before him. I’m excited to see what’s to come.”

Organization provides networking opportunities

Leading by example might well be Snorten’s life motto.

He joined NBGSA in 2009 when, shortly after completing his undergraduate degree in education at Indiana University, he chose to earn a master’s in student affairs administration in higher education from Ball State’s nationally recognized program.

“Clifton often leads with relationship building. He invests in getting to know people and building a shared vision that everyone cares about achieving.”

— Ro-Anne Royer Engle
interim associate vice president for student affairs and enrollment services

As he made progress with his studies, Snorten also worked as an assistant residence hall director. At the same time, his responsibilities with NBGSA grew, from serving as its Indiana representative to becoming its national social media coordinator.

A key benefit of NBGSA membership is the support system it has created for Snorten and other black grad students, whose membership allows them to network with peers across the country.

“Not only that, but at our national conference, members have an opportunity to present their research, and that’s such an incredible opportunity, gaining experience speaking before so many people, and for it to be an audience outside of your field.”

After graduating from Ball State in 2010, Snorten worked at another Indiana university before returning to Muncie in 2011. This time, he was hired as assistant director of the Multicultural Center.

Ro-Anne Royer Engle, interim associate vice president for student affairs and enrollment services, met Snorten when she was an assistant director in Ball State’s housing office. The traits she remembered about him — his passion for mentoring and strong sense of civic responsibility — became all the more apparent when he became her colleague.

“Clifton often leads with relationship building. He invests in getting to know people and building a shared vision that everyone cares about achieving,” said Royer Engle, who notes Snorten still maintains contact with students he’s advised through student groups affiliated with the Multi.

“He also leads by doing. He’s not above getting in there with his team. He’s also reliable and often an advocate for those he leads.”

Relationship-building key to Snorten’s leadership

Investing in relationships is how Snorten has built from scratch a Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)-sponsored Freedom Schools program in Indianapolis. The six-week literacy program is aimed at curbing children’s summer learning loss by providing reading enrichment.

Clifton Snorten’s involvement in the National Black Graduate Student Association includes attending the organization’s annual national conference. Today, he is president of the organization. ”

Snorten learned about Freedom Schools when he attended CDF’s 2012 national conference in Cincinnati. The $50 admission fee to the weeklong event led him to partake “in one of the best experiences of my life.”

Four years later, he’s again channeled his civic mindfulness into his role as project director for the AJ Brown CDF Freedom Schools program, the first to be sponsored by CDF in Indiana.

It’s not easy coordinating logistics for a program that, this summer, served 40 Indianapolis-area youths, but Snorten makes it look like it is, said Alexis Tardy, a recent graduate of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) who was hired as a program mentor.

“It takes incredible drive and vision to accomplish a program like Freedom Schools … but Clifton was determined to have one here in our community,” Tardy said. “It’s been special to witness its foundation being built from the ground up. He’s just a remarkable person.”

A career built on passion and civic responsibility

When Snorten left Ball State in 2014, it was to pursue a career in national politics. Today he’s the scheduler/office manager for U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, managing the Hoosier’s schedule and travel plans and acting as his personal liaison.

“A lot of what I did in student affairs is transferable to this job. The way I’d talk to residents as a housing director, or work with underrepresented students during my days at the Multi, that’s what I’m doing now … having conversations with constituents who need something.”

He’s glad the latest graduate degree he’s pursuing from Ball State, a master of arts in executive development for public service, offers its courses online. “I joked part of the reason I wanted to become president of NBGSA was so I’d be motivated enough to finish this second degree.”

As for his future plans, Snorten’s given up trying to determine where he’ll be in five years. “I used to be the type who needed to have a plan, but I’ve learned as long as I’m pursuing causes I’m passionate about — civil rights and social action, education and working with children — my core values are in place and I know what I need to say no to so I can keep it that way.”

Wherever he lands, Royer Engle said, “Clifton will be doing what he’s always done.

“Making an impact on his peers, nurturing and teaching the generations behind him, and always having a sense of great civic responsibility. And it’ll never be about Clifton but about the relationships and partnerships he’s building to have that impact.”

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