As a promising young scholar, she was supported by the Belin-Blank Center. Now she reaches out to other students adjusting to campus life.
Quinnetta Claytor is used to multitasking. Way back in middle school, she started learning to balance a full slate of academics, athletics, and involvement.
“The less busy I am, the less I get done,” she says. “I accomplish more when I have to budget my time and schedule my plans. Coming to college, I knew I could handle that—I’d been doing it since I was 13.”
The third-year University of Iowa student from Des Moines is majoring in psychology, earning an African American studies minor, and prepping for graduate school; playing intramural basketball; and staying active with campus organizations like Delta Sigma Theta sorority and Black Student Union.
But she’s also dedicated time for talking with younger students about adjusting to college life.
She focuses much of her attention on students looking for help feeling at home, including those who harbor ambitious academic goals or who come from cultural backgrounds underrepresented at most universities. Her best advice: “Use your resources. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and build relationships.”
Claytor speaks from experience, crediting the people and programs that helped her shape her goals and build the skills to reach them. In seventh grade she joined the Iowa Talent Project (ITP), an initiative from the UI Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, which this year marked 20 years of work with promising young scholars.
The ITP pairs participants with college-age mentors. Grace White, then an Iowa undergrad and an ITP alumna herself, met Claytor through the program.
“Quinnetta has always been very outgoing, but also laid-back,” says White, today a UI doctoral candidate in psychology. “She shows extraordinary leadership and an ability to adapt and work with anyone. It’s a joy to see her do that in a room full of people.”
While in high school, Claytor was admitted to the Des Moines Central Academy—a selective program for gifted students—which allowed her to take Advanced Placement courses and other high level classes. The ITP and other Belin-Blank initiatives also introduced her to the University. “I was familiar with campus and had networked a lot before I got here,” she says.
Even so, starting college wasn’t always easy. The academic transition was smooth, but Claytor wasn’t sure how she’d fit in as a student of color on a largely white campus.
Getting involved helped. Claytor became an ambassador with the Center for Diversity & Enrichment, speaking to fellow students and taking part in the center’s pen pal program. Last spring she got to meet her Cedar Rapids pen pal, a student at Grant Wood Elementary School.
Classroom achievement runs in Claytor’s family—her two younger sisters are currently ITP students. “We’re kind of a poster family for Belin-Blank,” she says with a laugh, adding that her mom and dad always urged the girls to strive.
“Our parents also wanted us to be involved in our community, because they realized that it paralleled hard work in school,” Claytor says. This service ethic also informs her career goals—she’s interested in pursuing a graduate degree in health administration or public health, blending her interests in business and medicine.
“I’m interested in the policies and procedures that influence how hospitals are run, and I’d like to be part of an administrative team that makes that happen,” she says. “I’m drawn to the field because I feel I’m adaptable and can make decisions under pressure.”
“Quinnetta is a good candidate for anything she sets her mind to,” White says. But Claytor emphasizes that part of her success comes from knowing her limits and seeking ways to overcome them.
“Students who come out of gifted programs—I know I went through this—can be too proud to look for help,” she says. “You have to get over that—you don’t know everything.”
Self-awareness is an important attribute for any student, Claytor adds.
“Be realistic and understand yourself,” she says. “Be conscious of the things that distract you and develop the willpower to keep you on target. Time management follows from self-discipline, and that has to come first.”
By Lin Larson; Photo by Tom Jorgensen