03 May 2024

SAU Falcon Finishes Strong: A Q&A with Graduating Senior De’Carlos Rowell

Saint Augustine’s University (SAU) continues to shine a positive light amidst recent media coverage. The remarkable story of graduating senior De’Carlos Rowell amplifies the spirit of resilience and achievement at SAU. Hailing from Washington, DC, De’Carlos will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre, illustrating the transformative impact of his journey as a first-generation college student and recipient of the Pell Grant.

“De’Carlos Rowell embodies the essence of perseverance and growth that defines the SAU experience,” said SAU Interim President Dr. Marcus H. Burgess. “His story is a testament to our faculty and staff’s tireless support and commitment to nurturing student success.”

De’Carlos’ path at SAU was not without challenges. Upon enrollment, he started with a modest academic foundation: a 2.3 GPA and an ACT score of 17. Overcoming personal hardships, including losing his great-grandmother, De’Carlos faced academic setbacks, landing on the Satisfactory Academic Progress List with a GPA of 2.1. However, with the guidance and support of faculty and staff, De’Carlos made a remarkable comeback, finishing strong with a GPA of 3.395 and earning a place on the Dean’s List for the Fall 2023 semester.

Post-graduation, De’Carlos is committed to paying it forward by sharing his passion for Theatre with students this Fall with Wake County Public Schools, igniting creativity and inspiring the next generation of artists and performers.

Q&A with De’Carlos Rowell:

What was your initial experience at SAU like, and what challenges did you face academically when you first started at the university?

First, I’ve been here since 2019. So, when I first came in, that was a rocky semester for me. When I lost my great-grandmother, I completely fell off. I didn’t know what I wanted left in life. I didn’t know what to expect after that. I started slipping, and that’s, like, 100 percent my fault, but I just lost myself when I lost my great-grandmother. That was, like, the biggest piece in my life. So losing her was kind of, yeah, it was difficult, but at the same time, I was able to persevere.

Can you share the specific steps or resources you used to improve your academic performance at SAU, especially considering the unique challenges first-generation and Pell-eligible students face?

I am first generation college student, so thank God for that. Some of the steps that I did take, I listened to my mentors, talked to my professors late night, studied hard, got into the books, and just listened to all of my professors, including the chair the chair of my department, Dr. Kaye Celeste Evans, she played a huge role in that. Professor George Jack played a huge role in that. I did a lot of mentorship programs and a lot of outreach programs. Lastly, I joined a fraternity (Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Incorporated), so I have a family for life now.

How did the caring faculty and support services at SAU contribute to your academic growth and success?

Absolutely. 100%. Most of my success goes to faculty and staff. Most importantly, Miss Baker and the registrar. She’s my number one favorite. Ms. Ashley Smith here in Trio. Mr. Malik Johnson was in the president’s office, and Dr. Burgess was there when he came. Even when I wanted to give up on myself and felt like I didn’t want to go anymore, they gave me the passion and drive to say, “Hey, Carlos. I believe in you.” So, since they believed in me and invested in me, I feel like they didn’t turn back on their investment because I’m graduating.

In what ways did the hands-on learning opportunities at SAU play a role in helping you improve academically?

Tremendously. The library resources. When the writing center was open, it helped me perfect my writing, become better at what I do, and perfect my craft. The books I’ve read enhanced a lot of things that I was learning in my department. It’ll allow me to see theater from a different and broader perspective. Thankfully, I’m grateful to the library. I’m thankful to the Writing Center. I’m thankful to the Food Pantry for moments when I didn’t have too much to have too much, but the Food Pantry was always there.

Can you describe any transformative experiences or moments from academic suspension or satisfactory academic progress (SAP) list to making the dean’s list? How did these experiences impact your outlook on academics and success?

Absolutely. When I first got on SAP, I was at a 2.1 GPA. I took 19 credit hours the following semester, increasing my GPA. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy. I lost a lot of people, last year during this time. I’ve lost over ten people last year. So, yeah, it was tough. It was challenging. First, it messed with my mind and threw me off my game. I was lost. I didn’t know what I was going to do. And like I said, it was even a moment on this campus. I was going to take my own life at one point in time. So it was like being where I am now, and I’m genuinely grateful. To be at the GPA I am now, I’m incredibly thankful. Like I said, I just put my head in the books. I focused hard. I studied hard, and I listened to my department.

As a student who enrolled at SAU with a low high school GPA and SAT/ACT score, how did the university support your academic development and help you reach your full potential?

First and foremost, SAU believed in me. I won’t say other schools didn’t, but SAU took a chance on me—a small kid from Washington DC, from a family of 5, single mom. I’m not going to lie. I’m emotional, but SAU plays a tremendous role in my success. And without SAU or without that passion and that drive from every faculty member, every staff, every friend that I made, every close brother of mine that I have, and every close sister of mine that I have, I’m incredibly grateful to have them in my circle. Without them, there’s there’s no Carlos.

What advice would you offer to other SAU students struggling academically and aiming to improve their performance, especially those who may have faced similar challenges as you did initially?

First and foremost, lock-in. Believe in yourself. The biggest obstacle in your life is yourself. If you get out of your way, lock in on what you have to do, focus on what you have to do, and take your time to perfect your craft, trust me, there’s nothing you can’t do. And guess what? SAU will believe in you—the whole step.

How do you feel SAU’s approach to education and support services differentiates it from other institutions, particularly in its impact on the academic success of students who may have initially struggled?

First and foremost, because of these programs, the tutoring programs, the library sessions, and the mentorship they have, SAU takes the time to get hands-on in the classroom. They make sure that you understand what you’re doing. My professors in my department make sure that you know what you’re doing. Not only do you understand what you’re doing, but you can also elevate that to a whole different level. As I said, SAU is that kind of school that takes the time to invest in the students and take the time to be up late at night, long hours, putting in grades, taking the time to, um, review information to make sure we are at our absolute best. And if it weren’t for my professors, if it wasn’t for the resources on campus, again, Carlos wouldn’t exist.

What role did mentorship or peer support play in your journey from academic suspension to making the dean’s list at SAU?

As I said, I will highlight this person specifically, Ms. Lindsay Baker. Ms. Baker has been there in every aspect you can think of. She has been a big sister. She is also the adviser of my on-campus organization. Like I said, I had long nights with her and long conversations with her. Many times, I would sit in her office to get a hug. She allowed me to activate the true greatness inside of me, which allowed me to activate the greatness inside my classmates. We did it.

How have you finished your academic time at SAU Strong?

I finished both of those semesters with all A’s. During that time, I was experiencing death, um, and mental breakdowns. During this time, I was pledging as a solo, um, on top of doing a full-time job as Food Lion. Um, I’m one of the supervisors there. Being able to do that and finish with eight A’s in all classes is a tremendous honor, and I’m extremely grateful to God, 1st and foremost, for allowing me to get to that level of success.

How can your success story inspire or impact other first-generation and Pell-eligible students facing academic challenges at SAU or elsewhere?

Again, like I said, you have to believe in yourself. That’s the very first thing you have to do for you to succeed. Whenever anyone is in this situation, like I was, if you take the time to listen, that’s the first thing I’ve always believed in. If you listen, listening is key. If you listen and take the time to read, engage, and be involved with the campus, SAU will be involved with you. So, as long as you invest in yourself, the school has your back 105% of the way.

Click here for more information about the 2024 Commencement.