Leading the Pack: Recalling his own fears, Walter Davis mentors, encourages and advocates for students.

Walter Davis

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Walter A. Davis III remembers what it’s like. After graduating from high school, he wasn’t sure he was cut out for college.

“My ACT score was low and I didn’t think I was smart enough,” Davis recalls.

Despite the fact that his mom, Lela Davis, worked in the bursar’s office at SIU and was one of the first African-American supervisors, Davis wasn’t confident in his future. However, after spending a few years in the workforce, including logging time in fast food service, Davis began listening to family and friends who encouraged him to give it a shot.

Came to SIU as non-traditional student

A native of Orlando, Florida, Davis moved to Southern Illinois as a child and spent much of his life in the world of higher education. Yet, it took him a while to gain the confidence that he could fit in. 

He initially returned to school at John A. Logan College and after earning his associate’s degree, enrolled at SIU. With hard work, determination, support from family and friends and a sound spiritual foundation, he completed his bachelor’s degree in 2004. He then went on to earn his master’s four years later. Both are in workforce education and development.

Launched career while still in school

Davis’ advisement career began in 2007 when he was still a graduate student. Seymour Bryson, then associate chancellor for diversity, saw the need for strong black male mentors to work in SIU’s Center for Academic Success. Davis enjoyed the work and quickly realized what a powerful and positive impact he could have on other students.

“I remember how it was as a student, not knowing what resources and help is available and being afraid of failing. As a non-traditional student I got experience that helped me understand the whole process – living on my own, paying bills, stressing over juggling everything,” Davis said. “It helped me be more patient and I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned with students.”

After graduating the following year, Davis was hired full-time as an academic advisor for the Center for Academic Success, working primarily with freshmen and sophomores. He also taught several university college classes and created a special presentation, “Let’s talk about diversity,” which he gave at various conferences.

In 2017, he moved to his current position as an academic adviser for SIU’s College of Education and Human Services.

Putting experience to work

Regardless of where he’s worked, Davis has remained true to one resolve. He is determined to help other students see their potential and give them the tools, encouragement and help they need to succeed.

 “I show them I care,” Davis said. “I put myself in their shoes and try to be patient and see what their needs are and determine how I can help them succeed and graduate. I help them see what they are really made of and how they can reach their full potential and even be a leader. I want them to see for themselves who they are and what their future can be.”

If the emails of appreciation are any indication, Davis is succeeding. Students express gratitude for his help, guidance and patience – even when they admitted to occasionally giving him “attitude.”

Davis sees his role as academic adviser to be multi-tiered. He believes he is tasked with helping students explore their interests, choose their classes and even sometimes their majors, as well as stay on track to graduate in a timely manner. But, he’s also convinced that it’s important that he be a mentor, role model and an activist for student success.

 “Walter is passionate about serving students. He takes student success personal and it is evident in everything he does,” Renada Greer, director of TRiO Student Support Services, and Saluki Summer Bridge, said.

Committed to family, health and the Saluki experience

Davis is also passionate about his family, including his wife, daughters ages 30, 28 and 4, and son, age 24. He’s likewise adamant about nutrition and exercise, something that took on real importance when he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes a few years ago — a condition he has now reversed.

You’ll also see him at many student events and activities on campus.

“I want to be there to support the students and encourage them,” Davis said. “I see the Saluki experience as a holistic thing, where students gain confidence emotionally and academically, where they become stronger and better educated not only about what they are learning in class bout about who they are.”

Davis is the adviser for about 300 students and typically meets with at least 5-10 each day. During busy periods, like right now, he’ll likely be helping at least ten Salukis daily.

“As an academic adviser, he goes beyond his professional responsibility in providing advice about course selections,” Greer said. “He supports, mentors and serves as an ongoing resource for students on campus. In my humble opinion, he is certainly ‘leading the pack.’”

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