That's why Shaquille Saillant's '17 story is so compelling.
It began simply enough last spring: an art and graphic design major looking for an outlet to stretch his creative muscles. He got a major boost when he was offered an internship through FSC's Social Science Research Institute. Next step was to find a place to spend it.
That's where Dr. Miriam Deitsch, director of the Institute, and Eva Pearson, Research Program Coordinator, stepped in, advising Shaq on where and how to best use his talent. He knew what he wanted to do; the harder part was finding where to do it.
"I was looking for an organization to give me the opportunity to design logos, booklets and create advertisements," Shaq says. " I took part in planning meetings with Dr. Deitsch and Ms. Pearson, giving them an idea of who I was and what I stand for, in order for me to be placed with an organization that would give me the best opportunity to grow as a designer and use my skills to benefit them."
As the trio reviewed placement options, one organization stood out to Shaq .That was S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth Inc., a Long Island-based family and community development group specializing in youth, gang and gun-violence prevention and intervention.
"S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth stood out, and I was adamant about working with them," Shaq says. "Their mission is to reach out to troubled youth and help steer them away from gang affiliation. From visiting their website I felt a real connection."
For Shaq the connection was personal, not vicarious. Growing up, his parents were out of the house working days, evenings and weekends, leaving Shaq with the responsibility of raising his younger brother. He credits that, and the support of his parents, for keeping him on the straight and narrow.
"I could have gone down many wrong paths, but I have grown up to be someone who takes action and who loves to be put in situations where I am helping others, especially my own generation."
But this life-enhancing experience almost didn't happen, because Shaq originally enrolled in a dual major: electrical engineering technology and computer engineering technology. Physics and circuits weren't his bag though, and soon his grades dropped and so did his attitude toward school. He had another outlet though, working for the Department of Visual Communications at Memorial Gallery and doing odd jobs. This helped him discover his passion for art and design, and he switched majors his sophomore year.
"My major was another thing that wasn't planned but seemed destined. I love the idea that my work can have an influence on people. This major takes that responsibility and multiplies it by each person my work reaches. I have learned how my skills could make an impact and I saw myself fit in nicely in this environment."
It seems odd though that art and design wasn't Shaq's major from the beginning, given his creative childhood.
"I was always very artistic growing up. I used to pause my VHS tapes, and I would draw the characters on the screen. Drawing was my main form of expression as a kid. If I was mad, I would draw. Happy? Draw. Sad? Draw. Bored? Draw. Hungry? Draw. I just always drew what was on my mind, and it has always been a great outlet for me.
"In high school, my English teacher saw my cartoons and made me the cartoonist for the school newspaper. It was at that moment I realized that I could get a reaction from people with my art. That feeling has always stuck with me, even today. I do my work to instigate a reaction from people, and if it's the reaction I intended, then I did my job."
Shaq's work at S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth included rebranding secondary logos, and designing banners, T-shirts, jackets and a newsletter. His hardest job was the group's chief logo because he didn't have complete creative control. But he finally convinced the group's directors to give him more leeway, and he is proud of the finished product.
"It was up to me to come up with something that fit the vision that screamed S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth's mission. It would become a beacon for youth to see our identity, an identity that was strong. I feel as if I gave S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth a fresh, new start with the tools to continue helping our community's youth and fighting gang problems.
"An identity is a powerful thing. When you have an identify you have a recognized voice. You can be heard and listened to, captivating those that hear your words. S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth has an important message that needs to be heard, and my designs were carefully crafted and molded to fit their needs."
That's what the internship did for the organization. It may have done something even greater for Shaq.
"I found out a lot about myself. I felt connected with my community and showed that my designs could be utilized for an important cause. I gained a new perspective on what it means to be part of my community.
"It was a life-changing experience, mainly showing me the good I can do with my skills. My experience was a great one. I walked away a better person and a better designer."