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USG president finds inspiration in his obstacles
December 5, 2022
Growing up, Isaiah Overton never imagined himself attending college, much less serving as the campus’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) president.
“I became interested in educational policy when I became president of the undergraduate student government. The opportunity to have a glance at the SIU school system and higher education in the state of Illinois was an experience that I could not pass up.,” Overton said.
His distinct upbringing is what makes him a successful leader.
“I grew up in Rock Island, Illinois with my three brothers and one sister. I was raised by a single parent, and she spent a lot of time between school and work. I spent most of my time at my grandparents’ house and participating in different after-school programs,” Overton said. “Every other weekend I would travel to visit my father. However, I believed I was raised by my community, and I value having learned from different perspectives. Those perspectives have helped me become well-rounded and objective as I approach different issues.”
During his childhood Overton experienced hardships that inspired his lifelong goal of wanting to help and serve others.
“The love and support I’ve received from people while experiencing pain and heartache from seeing my mother experience a low-income life and seeing my father be well off but distant from my life. In addition, seeing my mother in a lot of pain as a child urged me to find ways to make people happy resulting in my happiness. My goal in life is to ensure that my friends and family are happy and taken care of.”
The unusual path Overton took to get to Southern Illinois University (SIU) sets him apart from most students.
“I had a low GPA in high school and low-test scores. My high school overall performed lower on standardized testing and college prep compared to other schools. I was allowed into SIU through the provisional program. This program provided me with mentorship, and they monitored my first-year progress to continue at the university.”
Helping underprivileged youth is one of Overton passions in life.
“In high school, I connected with [4H], in which leadership skills and planning community impact projects were learned. One of my proudest accomplishments was winning a 7,500 dollars national entrepreneurship grant to build my own leadership program for elementary students in our community. I targeted Rock Island Academy because it was understaffed and as a result its students were under-resourced,” Overton said.
Overton stumbled upon USG and eventually ended up becoming its president.
“I never aspired to be president. I joined USG by accident my sophomore year of college. I was told to attend a meeting on behalf of my organization and was handed a senator petition form instead of a sign in sheet. I continued receiving invitations to attend future meetings and joined the funding board, in which I got to see the support that USG had to offer students. After that academic year was over, I had the opportunity to serve as vice president of finance. While there I worked one on one with organizations to help fund their events and initiatives,” Overton said.
Overton is proud of his role as USG president and loves the opportunity to be able to serve the student body.
“Assisting gave me the prospective to see what students are doing and what they hope to accomplish. I also consult with student leaders, faculty, and staff: to fully understand the framework of SIUC what students needed and the potential to influence those who choose to attend SIU.,” Overton said.
Sarah Ali-Brown, chief of staff at USG, is grateful to work alongside Overton as he leads her to success and gets her comfortable in doing a demanding job.
“Working alongside Isaiah has taught me so much. He continuously pushes me to do things outside of my comfort zone. I originally applied to be vice president of student programming, however he made me chief of staff. He felt as though this role would ultimately be best for me and would challenge me more. He was right, this job is no joke, but it has already taught me so much in the brief time that I have been there,” said Ali-Brown.
According to Overton, he observes students on campus struggling with their mental health and academics and believes that by assisting in improving their university experience, he is doing his lot to help.
“I put a spotlight on mental health and have shown the administration that no matter how a student looks or performs they could be dealing with emotional, social, and mental trauma. I’ve also worked to enhance the early alert warnings system on campus. This will allow faculty and staff to pinpoint students who may be at risk and need additional resources,” Overton said.
According to Grace Gunn, executive vice president of USG, “Isaiah has overcome some of the biggest obstacles and has still managed to serve as one of the best presidents SIU has had. Also,he is the first and only president to be elected to serve a second term.”
Overton said he experienced many challenges while serving as USG president, but he is glad the position has brought out strength he never knew he had.
“The biggest obstacle I have faced was being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. So, when I started to have manic and depressive episodes, I didn’t know how to control or manage my feelings. During fall of 2020, I was hospitalized due to an intense manic episode. Upon release, I learned that bipolar disorder runs in my paternal bloodline. Extreme anger and frustration overcame me leading me further into a manic and depressive state. My mood finally began to level after a steady treatment from SIU psychiatry and CAPS. Every day is still a struggle though I have found much joy and hope in my positions, friends, and family at SIU,” Overton said.
Toussaint Mitchell, former president of USG, worked with Overton before graduating and was honored to have him serve as president.
“SIU is fortunate to have a president like Isaiah; he cares about the university and is among the smartest people I have ever met. I was concerned about who would take over as president when I graduated, but when Isaiah stood up, I knew he would excel in the position and accomplish remarkable things,” Mitchell said.
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