Jayson Simmons’ leadership journey at Arkansas Tech University brought him to a moment of clarity that framed his four years on campus.
“As a student leader, you hear about the idea of leaving your legacy on campus,” said Simmons. “I used to think that my accomplishments and involvement would be my legacy (at ATU). But I realize now that my legacy lies inside all of the students that I was able to lead, inspire and change over the course of my four years at Arkansas Tech University.”
Simmons will receive the Alfred J. Crabaugh Award as the most outstanding senior male student at Arkansas Tech during spring commencement on Saturday, May 11.
“It feels really amazing,” said Simmons when asked about the award. “It’s an awesome culmination of everything I’ve done. I just hope that the people who come after me, the student leaders who are taking over the organizations now, see me as a good example. That’s what I tried to be. As much as I thought it was going to be about me going out and doing things on campus, this last year has been more about mentoring the younger people and making sure they are able to lead. If they can’t do that after you leave, then honestly you have failed.”
Leadership permeated Simmons’ four years at Tech.
After receiving encouragement from friends to do so, he became involved with the ATU Student Government Association as a freshman.
“Student Government really pulled me out of my shell,” said Simmons. “It helped me get involved with a lot more on campus, and it really started with that first and second semester freshman year. I knew that I wanted to be involved in leadership roles, and I think the No. 1 thing that drew me in and got me started was the Day at the State Capitol with SGA during my freshman year.”
He joined the SGA executive board as vice president for public relations as a sophomore in 2016-17. Then he was elected vice president as a junior in 2017-18. It led to Simmons’ successful candidacy for student body president in 2018-19.
“The biggest lesson I learned is that it’s not about the title,” said Simmons. “When I was younger, I thought I would get a cool name tag and a polo shirt. I learned very quickly that is not what it is about. It’s about how well you can serve people. It really changed my philosophy on leadership. I try to focus more now on servant leadership. You look at the greatest leaders, and that’s what they are.”
Through his service as SGA president, Simmons had a voice in multiple decision-making processes on campus. He served on committees concerning strategic planning, architect selection for a proposed new student union and recreation center, selection of a new vice president for academic affairs and the overall university budget.
“My mind was blown,” said Simmons. “It was a huge learning curve. I was invited to the economic impact study, and I was like, ‘how did I ever get here, sitting at the table with all of these big administrators of a public, four-year institution.’ And yet, there I was. I did my best, but it was the people who helped me along the way who really got me where I am.”
Some of those people were his peers. Simmons mentioned Suede Graham, Evan Gray, Trent Rogers and Matthew Smith as just some of the older students who influenced his development through participation in organizations such as SGA and his fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega.
“When I came to Arkansas Tech, I did not want to be in a fraternity,” said Simmons. “It did not interest me at all. I realized going into my sophomore year that all of my friends and all of the people doing big things on campus were in Alpha Tau Omega. I didn’t want to be involved in a lot of leadership positions in ATO because I wanted that to be something I could escape to.”
Simmons prefers to be on the move. It’s a kinetic energy he displayed during his days as a high school swimmer at Central Arkansas Christian High School, and it’s a mindset that has served him well as a student in the ATU Bachelor of Science degree program in emergency management.
“I do not like sitting behind a desk,” said Simmons. “That is probably the biggest strength (of emergency management) for me. I get to go out and be active. I still have class work, but a lot of the focus is on practical experience within your field. The faculty have guided me along the way since I was a freshman. They are great mentors.”
Simmons also served as founding president of the National Society of Leadership and Success chapter at ATU, president of Red Cross on Campus and as a member of the International Association of Emergency Managers and Epsilon Pi Phi honor society during his four years at ATU.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Simmons will intern with National Student Leadership during the 2019-20 academic year with a career goal of becoming an aviation survival technician in the U.S. Coast Guard.
When he reflects on his undergraduate experience, Simmons has no regrets.
“After visiting (ATU) and seeing the campus, it really pulled me in,” said Simmons. “It felt like home. The other places didn’t. It was different at Arkansas Tech. I think part of it was the outdoors and the environment here. The people…there was something about them. I liked the smaller environment where I could build personal relationships. You can do that anywhere, but you can really thrive at Arkansas Tech.
“I would not have changed anything,” continued Simmons. “My leadership would be a whole lot different if I had not attended Arkansas Tech, and I wouldn’t have all these awesome experiences. This was definitely the route that I am proud of. It helped me diversify, and it gave me that chance to not just jump into the future. I had time to be a college student, develop my leadership skills and build awesome family and relationships here at Tech. I’m sad to leave.”