YSU Grads Reflect on Accomplishments, Embark on Next Steps

By Hannah Werle
Youngstown State University Journalism Major

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Youngstown State University celebrated another year of graduates during its 2024 spring commencement ceremonies. More than 1,800 graduates from six academic colleges are leaving YSU with the knowledge and skill sets they need to take their next steps.

No matter the college or major, each graduate has a bright future ahead of them, forged by their unique paths and experiences at YSU.

Life-changing Event

One student with a unique journey is Abigale Downs, a social work major from the Bitonte College of Health and Human Services, who decided to come to YSU after a life-changing event revealed her passion for service.

Downs worked in marketing for the majority of her career until her husband became sick and needed full-time hospice care. After he died, Downs went through a personal journey to rediscover her passions and interests.

Eventually, Downs realized she wanted to continue working in social care. She met with Dana Davis, chair of YSU’s Department of Social Work, to discuss the path she wanted to take in the field of social work.

“I told her what I wanted to do, which was kind of specific. I noticed there was a big gap in the system of care for the unpaid caregiver of people that are on hospice and palliative care,” Downs said. “I really wanted to focus my attention on providing care for the unpaid caregiver and creating a support system for them, so that’s what motivated me to come into social work.”

Downs explained that her time in the social work program and interning at various locations has given her the confidence to face the challenging moments that come with working in hospice care.

“I really love doing hospice care. I thought that I would run into some issues going through that, but I’ve actually found that I am kind of quietly confident in those moments. I am able to understand and help someone who’s going through that change. That experience – that’s what drives me everyday,” Downs said.

After graduation, Downs will be returning to YSU for her master’s degree. Through a graduate assistantship, she will be working as a liaison to the partnership between YSU and the Ohio Living Vivo Center.

Change in Plans

Graduating from the Williamson College of Business Administration with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in finance, and a minor in marketing, Jason Gibson shared the sentiment of pursuing a career path he had not initially anticipated.

Gibson started at YSU as a STEM major, with the intention of going to medical school, until the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted his plans. After taking a step back to reassess his goals, Gibson decided to take business classes.

“I started talking with my parents and some of the advisors in the WCBA, and I decided I wanted to take some business courses. From there, I really enjoyed the finance and economics courses I took,” Gibson said.

Gibson’s decision to switch majors was partially inspired by his own ventures to create a small business. First, Gibson owned a semi-trucking company before he and his partners sold the business in 2021. This experience allowed him and a friend to create an online company called Inspire Unity.

“This was right at the height of the pandemic, when the election was going on,” Gibson explained. “Things were really crazy, and it was a whirlwind. We just wanted to get back to the core of bringing people together through the things that we have in common, rather than fighting over the things that we don’t.”

Through this company, Gibson worked to raise money for an animal shelter in Toledo and Akron Children’s Hospital’s Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders. While Inspire Unity has since been closed, Gibson is incredibly proud of the work he and his partners did to help others.

Gibson said his time at YSU taught him how to build a rapport, network and put himself out there. He said working with professors and a number of student organizations helped him mature through his college journey.

In his time at the WCBA, Gibson was a member of the Economics Club, the Student Investment Fund, the Emerging Leaders Program, the FreshGuins Leadership Program – where he would return as a mentor his sophomore year – and ’Guins Against Cancer. Gibson also served as the vice president of public affairs for the International Business Organization.

“It’s a really cool thing to be able to give back to the community that you’re a part of and be a servant of others. I think that’s an important thing to do as we grow up – give back to the people that have given so much to us,” Gibson said.

‘Journalism Through a Historical Lens’

Christopher Gillett, a history major with the Beeghly College of Liberal Arts, Social Sciences and Education, used the skills he learned within his major to pursue a path in journalism.

Gillett’s major taught him how to research, use archives and understand historical context within current events. Gillett used these qualities throughout his college career to work as a reporter and then news editor and website manager for The Jambar, YSU’s student media organization and newspaper.

“History ties a lot to current events. That’s how I got into journalism, knowing that past events are tied to the present. During Covid-19, a lot of the media I was consuming compared this pandemic to pandemics in the past, such as the Spanish flu, and how politicians and journalists and people interacted with it,” Gillett said. “I had an interest in current events, and I was interested in writing for journalism through a historical lens.”

Gillett used his classes and professors to learn and explain the context of modern events. As a reporter for The Jambar, Gillett wrote stories about the Russia-Ukraine war and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ family history at YSU. He also interviewed Bertie Ahern, the former prime minister of Ireland.

Gillett said he found many opportunities through his professors and their guidance.

“Going to college and talking with professors about things I’d always been interested in was an incredible opportunity. I don’t know who I’d be without coming to YSU. I don’t know who I’d be without the professors that I’ve learned from here and those who looked out for me and talked with me,” Gillett said.

Found Her Passion

Another student who began college on a different path was Hannah Gordon who, like many others, switched her major several times until she found her passion, ultimately pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic and interactive design.

Gordon said the faculty within her program helped guide her and provided feedback that facilitated her learning experience.

“As students, we need a lot of feedback on our projects because we’re still learning as we do things. The professors here are great about looking at our work and giving us feedback on things we should change and on how to use specific tools and applications,” Gordon said. “If I need them to go more in depth on what I need help with, I can always schedule a meeting. They’re always available to talk.”

In her time as a graphic and interactive design major, Gordon has been exposed to many different methods and styles of arts. She said the exposure she received has given her a perspective on what her future career will look like.

“YSU has helped me because we have to take specific classes. I had to take a logo and branding class. I’ve also had to take a package design class. The projects that were given in those courses help train us for the kind of projects we’ll be working with when we graduate. So I’ve gotten to design packages. I’ve been able to create my own logos, redesign logos, things like that. It’s definitely helped prepare for what kind of jobs we would have in this field,” Gordon said.

Gordon also found several opportunities to expand her portfolio through student employment and her BFA exhibition.

“I worked at Graphic Services on campus. I created all the designs for this previous homecoming, so my design got to be put on decorations and things like that,” Gordon said. “I also had my BFA exhibition at the McDonough Museum, so all my work was displayed there.”

The BFA exhibition is held at the end of the fall and spring semesters for senior art students who are graduating with a BFA.

Impact and Leadership

Tafazdwa Mapiki graduated from the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics with a biology major on the pre-medical track and double minor in chemistry and mathematics.

As a student from Zimbabwe, Mapiki became highly involved in programs for the international students at YSU. She joined the International Student Organization and the African and Caribbean Student Union as a freshman, and eventually served as president for both organizations in her junior year.

Mapiki joined these organizations because she struggled to find a community in her freshman year due to the pandemic. After making friends with a group of Nigerian students, Mapiki discovered the African and Caribbean Student Union.

“My very first friends were Africans from Nigeria. I asked, ‘Do we have an organization? Can I please hang out with you guys?’” Mapiki said. “They were Africans who met and spent time together, and that made life so much easier for me. Since then, I wanted to do the same for every other African student who came after me.”

Due to her impact and leadership on campus, Mapiki is a recipient of YSU’s prestigious Pin Award, which recognizes five graduating seniors who’ve excelled both academically and as a student leader on campus.

In her time at YSU, Mapiki also served as a resident assistant in Cafaro House and was a member of the Sokolov Honors College.

“Youngstown State University has wonderful people in almost every department. All the departments that I worked with, they were all super nice. And they have helped me to get where I am today.” Mapiki said. “The biggest help that I got was from the Honors College. They even helped me to get to work with the Mayo Clinic, which is one of the best hospitals in the world.”

Mapiki explained that her motivation to enter the medical field was largely influenced by her experiences growing up.

“I grew up in an underdeveloped country. I grew up in an underserved area. We didn’t have many physicians. We only had one clinic, which was really far away from my house,” Mapiki said. “Seeing the people around me struggling to get health care, struggling to access medicine – seeing the experiences of my family really pushed me to pursue medicine, and one day, go back home and aid in that health care crisis.”

Mapiki will begin medical school in August.

Preparation for Law School

Another impactful student leader on campus is Alexander Papa, who received his bachelor’s degree in history and political science from YSU in spring 2023. Papa returned to the university and earned his Master of Business Administration this spring.

Papa said he decided to return for this master’s because he wanted extra time to prepare for law school.

“I graduated in three years instead of four, so I wasn’t really prepared for the next steps. I was planning on going to law school, but in order to do that, you have to take the [Law School Admission Test].” Papa said. “I decided I really needed an extra year to have the time to go and take my LSAT, get the right score, apply to law school – all that kind of stuff. The online MBA program here offers an accelerated track, so you only have to do one year instead of a year and a half. Everything fell into place perfectly for me to do that.”

Papa said the MBA program helped him to understand the ins and outs of his own small business, Papa Gelateria.

“I have my own small business, which I set up with no business class experience. It was neat to get the ‘how everything works’ explanation that I didn’t have when I started,” Papa said.

During his time at YSU, Papa was highly involved in campus life and clubs. He served as president of the Interfraternity Council and the Student Government Association and as vice president of YSU’s chapter of the Sigma Chi fraternity.

Papa said the leadership roles and responsibilities he had in these organizations helped him build relationships and prepared him for law school.

“As a commuter student, it can be difficult finding a community. But being in those organizations allowed me to make friends, be on campus and connect that way,” Papa said. “Also, all of the extracurriculars, all the leadership experience I’ve had, it’s prepared me a lot for law school. Being in law school is a huge responsibility, and it can be really overwhelming and stressful, so I feel my experience managing multiple organizations while still being in good standing in classes has prepared me for handling law school.”

Papa has since passed his LSAT, though he is still deliberating between schools for his attendance.

Whether continuing their education or beginning their career, each of these students can rely on a solid academic foundation, worthwhile connections and noteworthy experiences. With knowledge and skill, graduates can pull from their experiences at YSU for years to come.

Pictured at top: This image captured from video shows Jason Gibson, who graduated from the Williamson College of Business Administration with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in finance. The full video can be viewed HERE. (Photography and videography by Spencer Tatta, YSU marketing major; video by Omar Frazier, YSU multimedia communication major.)

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.