Growing up in New York City, Zikomo Barr had no notion that he’d one day end up in Maine, pursuing a degree and career in post-secondary student affairs.
“It’s not an industry or a field that you aspire to go into when you go to college. It’s something that you stumble upon or realize that it exists as a career through your undergraduate experience,” says Barr, now in his second year as a higher education master’s student at the University of Maine.
As an undergraduate at the New York Institute of Technology, near where he grew up in the Bronx, Barr bounced between majors. He started out studying information technology, before deciding it wasn’t for him. Ultimately, he earned his degree in business administration with a concentration in management. But he credits his experiences outside of the classroom in campus activities for getting him interested in working with college students.
“Student government, president of my fraternity chapter, and just a plethora of different experiences that kind of allowed me to realize that I wouldn’t mind working in a collegiate atmosphere with students, and giving them the same opportunities,” Barr says.
When it came time to apply to graduate school, Barr looked at some of the top schools for higher education in some more highly populated areas — among them Indiana University, University of Pennsylvania and University of Connecticut. But he still wasn’t sure if he wanted to go directly from his undergraduate education to a graduate program, so he missed the priority deadline to apply to any of them. Then he got an email from the University of Maine, complete with an offer to apply for a graduate assistantship that would cover his tuition costs.
“That was a big thing, because my entire undergrad was afforded to me through a program that allowed low-income students to pursue an education. So, as long as I kept my grades up I had that opportunity. The same thing is afforded to me with the graduate assistantship,” Barr says.
The other major benefit of the GA position is that it’s helping prepare him for the workforce. His job with the office of Campus Activities and Student Engagement has given him invaluable experience, Barr says. He attends student government meetings and advises other student-led organizations. Last year, he attended two conferences put on by national organizations involved with college student activities and student workers. In the spring, he helped organize a leadership summit at UMaine, attended by students from throughout the state.
“The intent of the conference was to get people to understand that there are different types of leadership and to identify what kind of leader they are,” Barr says. “Leadership in society is typically viewed as something that’s associated with a position of power. But understanding yourself and knowing what qualities you bring to your current role or position can help people become leaders, even if they aren’t in a position of power.”
Leadership is one area that Barr is interested in academically, as well as professionally. Another is the first-generation college student experience. As the first in his family to attend college, Barr says it’s important to him personally. He hopes to one day earn his doctorate in the field of higher education, and says he’d like to do research that helps first-generation students in some way.
“I’m just in a fortunate position right now, and I try to wake up every day and be as humble as I can and realize that I’m better off than I was the day before. And also, try to reach a hand back and help those who aspire to be in the same position,” he says.