Contributing to an ongoing series about EMU alumni in graduate school, Joshua Lomas ’15 talks about his studies at EMU, where he was a liberal arts major with a concentration in business, and the personal growth he experienced while getting involved in the campus community.
Now a graduate student at Kutztown University, Joshua works as a success coach with the Providing Resources and Opportunities for Future Standouts (PROFS) program, which partners with ChildPromise, Inc. to provide support for students who are current or former members of the foster care system.
Joshua notes that out of more than 400,000 foster care children in the United States, less than 10 percent decide to pursue any type of college degree, and that it is a privilege to hear their stories and offer support as they work towards their goals.
What attracted you to attend EMU as an undergraduate?
At first, I just wanted to move away. I lived outside of Philadelphia my whole life and I wanted to be anywhere else. Then I fell in love with Harrisonburg because it has a very unique environment of a half-urban/half-rural area. They have an exciting downtown area that always has great events, and lots of open space and vistas.
You majored in liberal arts and focused in business. Why did you choose that combination and what skills did you gain from that interdisciplinary emphasis?
I began my journey as an accounting major. I loved the work, but realized that the career of an accountant wasn’t quite what I needed in life. I thrive off of relationships and knew that I needed to work more directly with people.
My experiences working with the Campus Activities Council and Residence Life affirmed that notion and I knew that I needed to change my path. I spoke with an academic advisor, Amy Springer Hartsell, who discussed a possible future in student affairs. It was too late to switch majors without having to extend my studies a couple years, so I decided on a liberal arts major, with a focus in business knowing that I could use that degree anywhere life took me.
What did you do after graduation?
I worked full-time as an assistant hall director at the University of Colorado to affirm my passion for higher education and student affairs. I loved everything about my job: the residents, my student staff, my daily work and my boss who turned out to be a great mentor. Unfortunately the position was terminated after one year.
I am pursuing my master’s degree in higher education at Kutztown University. Some of my goals here are to learn about opportunities to bring restorative justice to common student conduct processes, and how to find resources that help our students with financial, housing and food insecurities.
Can you talk a bit about your current work at Kutztown? What are its joys and challenges?
I am currently a graduate assistant working in a new aid program called the Providing Resources for Future Standouts program (PROFS). It focuses on giving aid to students who grew up in the foster care system who have decided to pursue a college education. I administer this program that provides financial aid, free on-campus summer and winter housing, and free off-campus trips to places like Washington D.C. or New York City or Philadelphia. I coach them through the challenges they face as students who may not have a network of support.
Because this is such a new program, I have had the opportunity of creating the program’s foundations. This includes policy creation, event organization, case management and relationship building. I also go to group homes to encourage foster care children to pursue a college degree.
I love all of my students and their unique personalities. Each has a story unlike anybody else’s and I get to watch them overcome all of that negative history that might have held them back. The hardest part is knowing that, although I provide a lot for them, I will never be able to give what a family would. One student sat in my office crying. She was trying to get a loan to buy a car, but had no credit. The dealership told her to get her parents to co-sign, but since neither are a part of her life, she had to let it go.
Have you found any of your experiences or coursework at EMU helpful in your current work?
EMU challenged me and helped me grow in every way I needed to best support my students. Through my philosophy classes with Christian Early and sociology classes with Carolyn Stauffer and Jenni Holsinger, I was challenged to see the privileges I live with as a white, middle-class male with a supportive family.
More than that, the most important lesson I learned was with Residence Life: I am a community builder, both in my personal and work life. Our motto was Learning to live together, and I keep that motto to this very day. We are all discovering ourselves and how we relate to others day by day, and it’s a process we experience together.
What do you think makes EMU graduates distinctive?
EMU offers a view of the world that I did not experience anywhere else. There is a clear focus on community, both locally and globally. Many of my coworkers have a very success-driven mindset because their schools taught them how to get ahead of the curve.
EMU taught me that success means nothing if I use it to put others down. It is that care for community, which EMU instilled in me, that made me the perfect leader for a program like no other.
What are some favorite memories of your time at EMU?
I was very active as a student and made many memories. From winning the variety show two years in a row, to my adventures to Cookout with friends, it is difficult to pick only a few memories because so many come to mind. I often check back to the EMU social media pages and websites to find that the residents I served as an RA are now in leadership positions.
I was able to experience many different adventures, and participated in a couple of harmless hijinks in my time, but I will always remember my time as an Community Assistant. Scott Eyre and Micah Hurst, my two residence directors, were two of the most influential people in my life. They encouraged me when I was feeling hopeless. They guided me with wisdom when I felt lost. They gave me the strength to do hard things when challenges appeared in my hall. I will always be thankful for the Res Life community at EMU.
Other influential people: Christian Early changed the way I think about the world, and there is no going back! Take a class with him. The reading is worth it. And Kristen Beachy inspired me to write again in her non-fiction creative writing class.
What are your plans for the future?
Next year, I will graduate with my MEd degree in higher education and student affairs. I want to work on the frontlines with students and help them succeed. My dream would be to move back down to Harrisonburg to be with my pseudo-family and friends, but I will go wherever God leads.
In the meantime, I am getting as involved as possible. I will be advising a couple student organizations, going to national conferences, building mentorships, and organizing presentations to inspire others with the success of my PROFS program.
What advice to you have for current undergraduates?
GET INVOLVED! And do so early. The CAC Barn Dance isn’t overrated, and your RA’s floor events aren’t stupid. These events are a time to get to know the people who will change your life over the next four years. If what you’re interested in isn’t available on campus, make it happen. The faculty and staff at EMU love to support the students and want to be involved (why else would they let you call them by their first names?). If you want to make an anime club, or knitting club, or even a drum circle club, go to the Student Life office and make it happen.