Ombudsman honored for work with students

Students on the verge of dropping out from USF have often found an alternative with the help of Student Ombudsman Samuel Wright.

Wright, who was awarded the 2012 Kente Award by the African-American Advisory Committee to President Judy Genshaft on Tuesday for his service to USF students and the community, said while some students come to the office simply to talk, others walk in seeking more assistance.

We have students who are perplexed about where theyre going and by what means theyre going to get there, Wright said. Of course, I dont try to take the role of an academic adviser but sometimes I have to look at the big picture (by) getting an idea of what the students likes and dislikes are and, perhaps, a feel for where they ought to be steered.

Tina Van Zile, Office of the Student Ombudsman administrative specialist, said the office often gets students literally ready to drop out.

Were the last stop before they say, Im done, theres nothing else I can do, she said. And, in many of those cases, Dr. Wright is able to help them resolve their issue and stay in school.

In addition to his role as ombudsman, Wright serves as the vice president of the Hillsborough County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and has served as a board member of the Florida Fund for Minority Teachers since 2010, when he was appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist. He also has other connections to those in high places which has also benefited students.

The office of Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., once aided a student thanks to Wrights 20-year-long friendship with Castors district director, Chloe Coney. The students father fell seriously ill, forcing the family to collect disability checks from Social Security, but Wright said the Social Security Administration didnt cooperate in providing the necessary forms to the student.

I called up the congresswomans office and they put me in touch with the Social Security office, he said. The woman sent the information from the SS office after doing a three-way call with the parent. … (The student) graduated (from) here a couple of years ago.

Billie Jo Hamilton, director of the Financial Aid Office, said Wright has a grandfatherly quality about him and often works with students who dont receive what they expected from financial aid.

I think sometimes students can feel disconnected and maybe frustrated by the bureaucracy, Hamilton said. So, perhaps, he comforts them and makes them understand while there is a bureaucracy and rules need to be followed, here is someone who can take the time (to help) and can (because he) has the resources to do that.

Prior to USF, Wright served as the first black city councilman for Boynton Beach, Fla., from 1980 to 1985 before quitting his job and relocating to Tampa, where his then-fiance had stable employment

Wright was then hired as an adviser for multi-cultural student organizations at USF, where he worked for 23 years before becoming the ombudsman.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller said Wrights knowledge and experience with USF faculty and operations are vital to helping students with different backgrounds and issues, which led to Miller hiring Wright to the ombudsman office in 2009.

Hed been involved in student affairs for a number of years, Miller said. He knew the ins and outs of this University. A lot of students knew him and respected him. He knew professors to call, department heads.

Wright said he helped USF alumna Twaila Walker stay in school when she was homeless.

The initial issue was she had been offered a fellowship at USF but she hadnt been admitted to a masters level program, he said. I was trying to steer her into another area that was closely aligned with maybe her experience and interest.

Walker took a few classes at USF, but failed them due to the time-consuming responsibilities of cooking at the homeless shelter. Even so, Wright continued to help Walker in finding a job with the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa, a job placement program.

Through the program, Walker was able to get a job as a telephone billing representative for OneTouch Direct and move out of the shelter into a small Tampa apartment.

If there is something extra that he can do, he makes sure it gets done, Walker said. But, at the same time, he also makes sure you do your own leg work as well.

Wright said the first thing he tries to do is empower students.

I believe the most important treasure in life is human behavior, he said. Thats priceless in terms of steering people in a direction where they need to go because they are all human beings. Theyre somebodys son, theyre somebodys daughter, somebodys nephew and if we cant put a priority on dealing with human behavior, then where can we place that priority?