Like the typical commencement speaker, senior sociology major Amy Yates, of South Roxana, Illinois, is well-known throughout her department for her involvement and high grades. However, unlike most students, Yates balances these activities on top of being a non-traditional student and single mother.
Yates said her daughter was her inspiration for going back to school.
“College is hard in itself, but then trying to be a single mom on top of that is really hard,” Yates said. “But, she’s been my inspiration to want to go back to school and to make the world a better place and I’m … hoping that my love of education and my love of school will be transferred onto her and that she’ll have that same passion and maybe not wait so long to go to college after high school.”
Because of this, Sociology Instructor Elizabeth Stygar said she believes Yates’ experiences will resonate with a wider audience at commencement.
“She’s also a non-traditional student and a mother, and she went to [a community college] before coming to SIUE, and I think that her experience can speak to a broader audience there at graduation,” Stygar said. “She overcame a lot of obstacles to get where she is, and I think that’s incredibly inspirational.”
Throughout her time at SIUE, Yates has been involved in a number of student organizations and honor societies, including being the Vice President of the Alliance of Students Against Poverty and an Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities assistant.
For her URCA project, Yates worked alongside Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of SIUE Successful Communities Collaborative Connie Frey Spurlock on a project that helped businesses in Alton, Illinois, by identifying both real and perceived barriers to starting businesses there.
“We interviewed stakeholders in the city [and] we talked to some city council members,” Yates said. “We talked to the Alton Main Street who works with other small businesses in Alton and business owners to see what issues they had when they started their businesses and compiled a list of suggestions. Then, we came up with a list of barriers and formatted a survey around that. We are still collecting data on that.”
Frey Spurlock said having Yates as part of the group was a real asset to the project.
“When she applied for that URCA position on that project, which I was thrilled to have her and glad that she’s been a part of it,” Frey Spurlock said. “It was a wonderful experience, and I think Alton got some good information as a result of Amy’s research.”
Sociology Instructor Ezra Temko said Yates’ involvement outside the classroom builds off of her classroom studies.
“Her work outside is actually really complementing her work inside this academic space because part of her specific work is to learn about how we make a difference in the community and everything from what tactics and strategies work to how community change is made within the social world,” Temko said.
According to Yates, being named commencement speaker and reading letters of recommendation from professors for graduate school have been the most rewarding parts of her SIUE experience.
“I know how hard I work, and knowing that they can see how hard I work and that they understand that I really am doing the best that I can, it means a lot because it feels like all of my hard work over the last four years has finally come to fruition and I have something to show for it,” Yates said.