Drawing from time on campus, alumna continues to pay it forward

Lakisha Clinton lives by the mottos “knowledge is power” and “pay it forward.” From her time at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, through her successful career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and her recent induction into a selective scholarship award program, she has been driven by her love for public service and being a champion for others — traits that she first started developing at UW-Platteville, as she navigated her way through college with a support network that ranged from peers, to faculty and advisors, all the way up to the chancellor. 

Clinton, originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, graduated in 2014 with a degree in political science. She immediately moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked at a political law firm as a compliance specialist executive administrative assistant.

“What was very interesting about my transition after college, is that a lot of times you don’t necessarily get a job directly in your field right after college, or the classes you took might not apply to your job. I might be one of the few students who could say that I got a job in the field and every single class I took at UW-Platteville, I was able to apply to my job.” 

After a couple of years at the law firm, where Clinton says she was surrounded by role models and champions who helped her professional development, she embarked on her career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and moved to Ohio. She started as Project Lake assistant and quickly moved up from that project-level position to a headquarters-level position, as administrative assistant in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Clinton’s long-term goal is to attend law school, and she is one step closer now thanks to her recent acceptance into the competitive Center for Cyber Strategy and Policy, Department of Political Science scholarship program. It provides scholarships for full tuition for cybersecurity undergraduate or graduate education. Clinton is starting a graduate program at University of Cincinnati this fall and plans to earn her master’s in public administration with cybersecurity and social justice emphases. 

“I am so excited to go back to school and not worry about finances,” said Clinton. “Especially being a single mom, that life-work balance is essential. The scholarship will put me in a place where I can stay with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or expand to different agencies. My goal is still to get a law degree after my master’s. I definitely want to stay on the public sector side and give back to the country any way I can. That’s my calling, that’s where I thrive, that’s where my energy is. I love politics, public policy and social justice reform.”

Politics and law weren’t always in Clinton’s future, for the simple fact, she says, that she didn’t think she could ever be a good public speaker. Her initial goal was to become an OB-GYN. She started her college education as a biology major and still cites some of her most impactful experiences at UW-Platteville as those that she completed in the biology program, such as helping with stem cell research with Dr. Esther Ofulue. 

However, Clinton eventually became involved with Student Senate at UW-Platteville, which set in motion her major change. A series of other experiences on campus grew her confidence in public speaking and confirmed her ideas for her future, including several years spent as a campus tour guide for prospective students, an internship with Wisconsin State Sen. Lena Taylor, and a job in the office of Chancellor Dennis J. Shields. 

“Chancellor Shields had a major impact on me,” said Clinton. “He always made himself readily available to the students who worked for him. He helped connect me with the people who would help me get myself in a position where I can be successful. I was having issues getting home [to Milwaukee], and he worked out a collaboration for a bus to pick students up in Platteville and drop them off at cities all around Wisconsin. I think it’s essential to have a chancellor who doesn’t seek any reward other than retention, and getting students to get what they came here for – a degree and success. I wouldn’t have gotten the job in Washington, D.C. without the experience of working for him.”

In addition to mentorship from the chancellor, Clinton found a network of support on campus, but acknowledges that it was something she learned to reach out for.

“Being a student, especially a student of color, and going to a university that is very different does not negate your success,” said Clinton. “You have to be open to understanding and willing to strive and keep the odds past the expectation of a system that has not been designed for students of color. You have to realize things won’t always be handed to you because you aren’t privileged. But you have to be able to have a conversation with yourself and with your family — which is not always blood-related. You can have a support system, and you will become the people you surround yourself with. Being a student of color in a predominantly white institution means it’s important to have those uncomfortable conversations so you can discuss those odds that are against you and expand and surpass them. That’s what it means to be a successful student of color at UW-Platteville. That’s essential to being that change you wish to see in the world.”

Clinton found this support through the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, which offered auxiliary academic advising and peer mentors that she said was essential to her success.

“I can’t say 100% for sure who I would be now without OMSA,” said Clinton. “That building was my second home; it was essential.” 

Today, Clinton is continuing to find success in multiple areas. In addition to her scholarship award and her new education pursuit, she also recently started her own business, Raw 7 Collection – a line of organic, detox drinks made from local fruits and vegetables. 

Whether it’s her profession, education, or making people healthier, paying it forward and being a champion for others – most importantly, she says, for her 5-year-old son, Elijah –is what continues to drive her, and it’s a lesson she can still trace back to UW-Platteville. 

“I learned that’s what the chancellor did — he wrote his own path. It was nice that he noticed that I had that drive; he extended his hand, but I had to reach for it.”