Fitzgerald, Ga. native and first-generation student Carl McCray will graduate from Georgia State this May with a degree in managerial sciences from the Robinson College of Business. Carl attended Fitzgerald High School and will be the first of his grandmother’s 22 grandchildren to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Carl has used his time at Georgia State to make lasting connections, including with Governor Nathan Deal, whom he met after sharing his story at the Complete College America conference in Denver this past October.

“I met Gov. Deal at the capital building and shared my story of coming from a small town and breaking out,” explains Carl. “It was a really amazing experience.”

Carl was selected by Georgia State’s Vice Provost Timothy Renick and the University Advisement Center, where he worked as a student assistant during his freshman to junior years. He was invited to share his story at this event, where educators and administers can swap strategies for improving student success.

Choosing Georgia State With A Little Help From His Friends

Carl always knew he wanted to leave his small town roots and experience more. While he considered Valdosta State, Georgia Southern and the University of Georgia, he was drawn to Georgia State’s location in downtown Atlanta. On a leap of faith, he enrolled without visiting the campus.

Even though he committed sight-unseen, Carl felt confident about his choice. A close friend who was a year older and who had already transitioned to college helped guide him and find answers to his questions. His friend, along with a vice principal and instructional coach from his high school, helped make up for some of the gaps in information Carl felt when navigating the college process. By searching out others who could help him, Carl found the answers he needed.

“[My vice principal] was someone I always gravitated toward. He was always there for me,” says Carl. “He encouraged students to attend college and take the standardized tests.”

His instructional coach was his ninth grade literature teacher, Angela Davis. Carl attributes her interest in his well being with making the difference in his trajectory as a student.

“Ms. Davis was really a great influence on my life,” Carl explains. “My freshman year of high school, I went through a phase where I didn’t want to take honors classes anymore. When Ms. Davis received word of this, she and my guidance counselor absolutely shut that notion down. She believed in me like no other and she stayed on top of me to make sure I was doing the right thing and doing my best. She was also very vocal about my areas of improvement and she wrote me a couple of letters of recommendation for scholarships I received my senior year.”

Changing Majors and Finding His Network

Carl entered Georgia State as a nursing major, with thoughts of potentially becoming a physician assistant. But he changed his mind after taking a few science classes required for the nursing major.

“The course work [here] was definitely more difficult than in high school. I had to apply myself a whole lot more,” he explains.

He’s figured out what works for him and that means surrounding himself with people like him. Carl joined the Georgia State chapter of the business fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi.

“This was the best decision I could’ve made,” he says.

Carl also feels strongly about building relationships and the network he’s built while being a student at Georgia State proves it. His people skills are reflected in his other activities, too. He’s a student ambassador with the President’s 1913 Society and a mentor at Big Brothers Big Sisters. He even ran for Mr. Georgia State last fall during Homecoming.

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“I didn’t win, but it sure was a lot of fun,” he remembers.

Working Hard and Planning for His Future

Carl hopes to continue connecting with others and building his strong work ethic after graduation. He’s been working full time in Human Resources at Koch Business Solutions through a cooperative education program this semester.

“My co-op experience has been truly remarkable. I have the opportunity to get exposure to a corporate environment at the second largest privately held company in America,” he shares. “At Koch, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with our company’s leadership, including the President, which is an experience I am definitely grateful for.”

At Koch, Carl has contributed to several projects designed to inform employees on HR related topics, including 401(k) plans, pension plans, and other company benefits.

“Koch is an amazing company and they really value their employees, which is why I am working hard to receive a full time offer after graduation,” he says. “I really want to have options and, ultimately, that will allow me to choose the best career path. I want to be in a career that has great growth opportunities, allows me to grow as an individual and a leader, and take care of my family as best as possible.”