Tyler Thomas sees it every day.
He’ll be calling someone, and he’ll see on his iPhone’s save screen a visual reminder to keep going.
The photo shows former President Barack Obama and the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis walking side by side. Lewis and Obama are a lot like Thomas’ parents and his paternal grandparents. They’re all people who inspire him.
Yet, they’re not the only ones. Three years ago, when Thomas arrived at HPU as a member of the inaugural Business Fellows program, he found others. Professors became mentors, and the campus became, as Thomas likes to say, “a learning lab for life.”
Thomas is one of two Extraordinary Leaders for the month of April. He’s a junior marketing major from Cleveland, Ohio. He has a minor in social media marketing, and he has served as the secretary and treasurer of HPU’s Student Government Association.
This spring, he ran for SGA President. He lost. Still, that didn’t dampen his spirits. He gave it his best shot running on the slogan, “There’s A Promise with Tyler Thomas.”
Thomas first liked the name, High Point University. He discovered it during a college search at the end of his sophomore year at the Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, a private school founded in 1968 in his hometown.
When he viewed HPU online, he didn’t see the old hallways and institutional-looking buildings he discovered during his college visits closer to home. He saw new buildings and promising opportunities that showed students not only getting jobs but leaving the university as community-minded individuals guided by faith, service and integrity.
For Thomas, HPU reminded him of what he learned at Eastview United Church of Christ, his home church. His mom is a church leader, and Thomas attended Sunday School and sang in the church choir since he was four years old.
When he came to visit HPU with his mom and his grandmother, he knew the university was for the school for him.
“I can make something of myself at High Point,” he told himself.
The people he met on campus got to know him and asked about him and his interests. One of those people was Dr. Kerr Ramsay, vice president of undergraduate admissions. Thomas remembers Ramsay telling him this:
“Your leadership speaks for itself.”
At the beginning of his freshman year in high school, Thomas got involved with the local chapter of the Future Business Leaders of America. He wanted to improve himself and hone his leadership skills, and he believed the organization known as the FBLA could help.
As one of the largest student organizations in the country, the FBLA has nearly 250,000 members worldwide with 5,200 chapters in 47 states and seven countries. One of its primary missions is to turn students into business leaders.
Students like Thomas.
At the end of his sophomore year at the national FBLA conference in Atlanta, he ran for national secretary. He campaigned for three days and hardly slept. He lost. It crushed him. But he didn’t give up. The next year, at the FBLA’s national conference in Anaheim, California, Thomas ran for national treasurer.
He learned from his loss the year before on how to market himself. He used everything from beach balls to a social media campaign to generate interest. He practiced his two-minute speech for nearly two months, getting his pace and voice inflection just right. He then delivered it in front of 14,000 people.
Before he walked in front of the biggest crowd he’d ever addressed, he prayed.
“Dear God, give me the strength to do this.”
Thomas won. He called his mom right away.
“Mom, I did it! I did it!”
As the FBLA’s national treasurer, Thomas traveled to the national headquarters in Washington, D.C., four times. He also helped establish a financial literacy program and addressed advisors and FBLA student members from Dallas to Buffalo, New York.
Thomas brought that leadership experience to HPU. Dr. Oliver Stoutner, the advisor for HPU’s Business Fellows, noticed.
Stoutner first met Thomas during a reception for the inaugural class of Business Fellows. Thomas was one of 100 students chosen for the program. Since that initial meeting in the ballroom at the Wilson School of Commerce, Stoutner has seen Thomas grow.
Every few months, Thomas dropped by Stoutner’s third-floor office in Wilson to get advice on everything from internship opportunities and his recent SGA presidential campaign to his future professional aspirations.
“It’s remarkable how intentional he has become, and that tells me he’s going to do some special things,” says Stoutner, an assistant professor of management. “He is already on his way of making a difference on campus with student government, and I know he’ll continue that focus on service professionally.
“Also, when you talk to employers about what they want out of a good employee, hustle is high on the list, and that is definitely Tyler.”
Last summer, a preparatory program for ethnically underrepresented student known as Intern X helped Thomas received a virtual internship last summer with AT&T and worked on its 5G initiative with the federal government. Intern X was created by billionaire Robert Smith, the CEO of Vista Equity Partners who donated $34 million to pay off the student loans of more than 400 2019 graduates of Morehouse College.
This summer, his connection with INROADS, a program that helps ethnically diverse college students develop corporate and community leadership skills, he’ll go to Plano, Texas. Thomas will be as a corporate analyst intern with JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States. He’ll work in the corporate & investment bank section focusing on wholesale payments specializing in process improvement.
He’s come a long way from his first weekend at HPU during Convocation in front of Roberts Hall. He saw himself as a college student who simply focused on going to class and not much else.
“I think back to being that kid sitting on the Roberts Hall lawn and saying, ‘I’ll be a normal kid,” Thomas says. “But God said, ‘Nope, you’re not a normal kid.”
Since his freshman year, Thomas has been a member of the Alpha Kappa Psi, HPU’s business fraternity. Since his sophomore year, Thomas has been a resident assistant helping dozens of students navigate college life.
Last year, as an RA on the third floor of Wanek, he helped 35 freshmen acclimate to college. That included getting knocks on his door at 2 in the morning. This year, as an RA at Point Place, he deals with 35 upperclassmen.
Thomas has been active in HPU’s diversity and inclusion efforts through HPU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. He helps with program planning as a member of VOICE Student Advisory Board and participates in the office’s Diversity Enrichment Track.
Meanwhile, he is a Student Justice responsible for adjudicating cases regarding policy violations of HPU’s Conduct Code and Honor Code.
“It’s made me think very intentionally about things no matter how small,” Thomas says of his role as a Student Justice.
Thomas does all this service work beyond his role in SGA. When he came to HPU, he wanted a transformative education that would challenge and refine him. He has found that. He also has found balance. In doing so, his grades have improved.
“It’s a miracle and the grace of God,” he says. “I knew HPU would connect me with what I care about, and I put effort into that. Also, if you need help, HPU has help for you.”
Tutors helped Thomas with his courses. And Thomas helped himself.
Like in calculus.
He dropped it the spring semester of his freshman year. Last fall, he took it again. He got an A-. What changed is that he’s more organized and laser-focused. His routine has helped him become a member of Delta Mu Delta, HPU’s business honor society.
Thomas has made his parents, Louis and Kelly Thomas, proud. They call him Ty. Louis is an independent truck driver, and Kelly is the clerk of council in a small city eight miles east of Cleveland. Their son, Ty, their only child, has gotten his wish.
He has made something of himself at HPU.