When Demetri Kelley is not writing or performing spoken word poetry, he serves as Cal State Fullerton’s first assistant dean of Student Affairs at the Office of First Year Experience, a role he has held since the beginning of the fall semester.
“Every day has been rewarding and in different ways. I’m constantly learning and growing in this role,” Kelley said.
His interest in student affairs comes from his past, where academia played a significant role in shaping his life.
“I grew up in Barstow, California,” he said. “In a single-parent household with two older brothers. There were plenty of opportunities to get into mischief and get into trouble. My faith, my involvement in academics and sports kept me grounded.”
Various high school psychology classes swayed Kelley to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Northern Arizona University. After graduating in 2014, he went on to earn a masters of arts in college student personnel at Bowling Green State University.
In school, Kelley was challenged by a supervisor to pursue a career that involved providing guidance to students.
“I used to tell my students all the time, do what you love, and you’ll love what you do. My supervisor challenged me to take my own advice. He said, you clearly love this work, you can see the positive impact here you’re having. Take your own advice,” Kelley said.
At the start, Kelley had various objectives he hoped to accomplish.
An immediate goal was to foster an environment that emphasized student individuality.
“I want our students to know, first and foremost, that they matter, that they’re not just a number coming to Cal State Fullerton. There’s over 40,000 students here, and it’s a predominantly commuter campus. We want our students to make sure that they have a sense of home,” Kelley said.
Silvia Zamudio, the student support coordinator of the office, works in tandem with Kelley, helping ensure the office runs smoothly. Zamudio sees the goal of student individuality reflected in Kelley’s interactions with students.
“He knows how to say the right things to support students, to support his peers and I think that makes him more accessible for students. He’s really easily able to motivate anyone to do whatever they need to be have done,” Zamudio said. “He’s very attentive. And I think he’s very caring.”
Amid the challenges of transitioning into a newly created role, Kelley and the staff have begun constructing a framework for the best way to connect with students and impart upon them necessary knowledge.
This process has culminated in the creation of events like “Painting Your Future,” an interactive painting workshop.
The program is one of many new initiatives that seek to connect students and motivate them to think about future goals.
Jennifer Romulo, CSUF senior, is a senior peer mentor at the office.
Romulo said that Kelley is often conversing with students, asking them about their day. She adds that there has been a difference in interactions between staff and students.
“I’ve noticed that switch to where our first years are not so scared of talking to our pro staff because everybody’s asking, ‘How are you doing?’” Romulo said.
Kelley has also helped implement changes with students on staff at the office.
“This year, it was his idea to have faculty here signup for scholarships,” said Gennie Guerrero, a student assistant.
As a first-generation college student and black man, Kelley said his presence at CSUF holds some significance.
“If in any way I can be a positive role model, a positive image of what a black man or a man of color can be, I want to be that,” Kelley said.
Although he does not plan on leaving his current position anytime soon, Kelley said he envisions a future where his reach is larger and he can provide guidance to more students.
“My dream is to one day be appointed as the U.S. Secretary of Education so I can help restructure and guide the development and recreation of our education system as a whole,” Kelley said.
Video produced by Madison Amirehteshami, Julian Orozco and Billy Huynh.