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#WhatStartsHere: Shelby Gaylor, Gateway Scholars Recruitment Director

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image of student Meet Shelby Gaylor, an economics junior who joined the Gateway Scholars program to learn how to make the most out of her undergraduate experience. Now as a mentor and recruitment director, she is paying it forward to other students who need a little help navigating this Texas-size campus.

Activities: Recruitment Director, Gateway Scholars Mentor Program; Teacher Intern, UTeach-Liberal Arts; Co-Founder, Southwest Olympic Fiesta; Accounting Intern, Texas Sheet Metal; Former member of the Longhorn Hellraisers

Getting her bearings…During her freshman year, Gaylor learned how to adjust to her new life on the Forty Acres with some help from her mentors Masi Deidehban and Alvin Logan. Inspired by their good work, she too wants to make an impact on students’ lives. “They both encouraged me to apply to become a mentor and it was the best decision I ever made.”

Paying it forward…Now as a mentor, she is helping students who—like herself—need a listening ear. “I know from experience how overwhelming UT and adulthood can be, which is  why I wanted to be able to offer my help to freshmen in need. Becoming a Gateway mentor has been the most rewarding experience and I am extremely grateful I was given this opportunity.”

Thinking on her feet…Every year, mentees work on a conflict-resolution project to sharpen her problem-solving skills. A big challenge, Gaylor says, is guiding them through the process and helping them work toward a compromise. Through these activities, she’s learning how to be a stronger leader and an expedient problem-solver.

Talking it out…Whether Gaylor’s leading a group activity or meeting with students individually, she’s learning how to become an effective communicator—a strength that will help her in the workplace long after graduation. “I try to form genuine relationships with my mentees and sometimes it is difficult to get them to open up to me without prying. I have to be able to read their demeanor and adapt the way I communicate with different personalities.”

A whole new world…In a relatively short amount of time, Gaylor is amazed by how much she has evolved. Everyone in the program—mentees, mentors, professors and staff—have challenged her world views and helped her see the broader picture. “I love that I receive a variety of perspectives. Dr. Moore’s class, Race in the Age of Obama, exposed me to a world I didn’t know existed. There are so many issues that need awareness and attention. I am so thankful Gateway ignited my curiosity and motivates me to always focus on community development and social justice.”

One is the loneliest number…The most valuable aspect of the program, she says, is the opportunity to make new friends. “I don’t think people talk about how lonely freshmen year can be on this big campus, where intimidation kicks in and the classes are more difficult than what you’re used to and you’re just trying to stay afloat. Finding happiness with friends is so important and I am so thankful Gateway helped me and I was able to help my mentees as well.”

Life after UT…Gaylor’s post-graduation plans are yet to be determined. She envisions herself working in economic development or maybe at a nonprofit. But her dream is to become HGTV’s next biggest house-flipping star. “I like to think I am super creative and I would love to be able to put my creativity to good use.”

Getting crafty…Aside from her academic life, Gaylor loves to experiment with DIY projects and exploring her city with friends and family—from cupcake ATM machines to kayaking adventures.  She loves to travel and aspires to visit every Disneyland resort around the world.

More about the Gateway Scholars program: One of the largest student success programs at UT Austin, Gateway Scholars helps students of all disciplines transition to and through college. The program’s offerings include peer mentoring, signature courses, study abroad opportunities, academic and professional workshops, free tutoring and more. Visit this website to learn more.