By Jim North
Southeast Campus Editor
Josh Wilson grew up in a military family, moving every few years in numerous states. Now, he invests significant time and energy working for the CIA—acronym for ‘Christians in Action’.
He began his college career at Northern Virginia Community College, later transferring to the University of South Florida, obtaining his bachelor’s degree in computer engineering.
Having attended a community college has helped Wilson to identify with students at Tulsa Community College (TCC) and has provided a better fit for him within the CIA organization.
The group meets several times per week in different locales, providing a vital social outlet, as well as planned activities for TCC students to engage in, outside of the classroom.
CIA welcomes anyone who would like to be involved, primarily reaching the age demographic of 18-35.
Currently, 100 students are participating and numbers have reached as high as 200 for special events.
Being an older student himself, Wilson desires to “give back” to younger students through his service.
Campus Ministry United began forming CIA chapters in 1998 in Florida and expanded to other states as well. Besides TCC, Rogers State University and the University of Tulsa hold chapters in the local area.
The concept of CIA is one of ministry, and Wilson considers himself a college minister. However, he says the concept of ‘team’ within the organization has grown out of its collective desire to be available, effective and different—thus facilitating student life functions.
“We just try to build a community for them [students]. It could be maturing in a bunch of different areas, or hooking them up with resources … to get their volunteer hours for Tulsa Achieves … or to hold a big event to have fun on campus,” said Wilson.
CIA works ‘hand-in-glove’ with TCC’s Student Life staff at the Southeast Campus (SEC), Jon Herring and Jennifer Beattie, while Fitness Center specialist Randii Harrald serves as the organization’s staff adviser.
Recent activities include a “Humans vs. Zombies” game of tag, which lasted for several days; a St. Patty’s Day “Root Beer Kegger,” where students enjoyed a photo booth, played games and drank root beer.
One of the organization’s main objectives is providing students with opportunities for positive interaction and fun, healthy alternatives to “clubbing.”
Wilson cites one of the functions of the organization is improving college retention rates.
“There’s a high drop-out rate for the young males.” He enjoys working with young people and wants to help them grow personally and academically.
“That’s kind of been a win-win in some way. It helps them, the university [TCC] here and then it helps me.”
Wilson says seminars on time management and life-skills workshops are practical ways of helping students to succeed.
He receives positive feedback from students aided by the group’s support; including friendships, a safe place to go when they need help, tutoring, counseling, free meals, or even a place to spend a holiday.
“We meet probably three times a week. The way the organization is structured, there’s something going on every night of the week. If your schedule doesn’t work because you’ve got to work here, you can attend something else.”
Coffee shops, volleyball at TU, or just hanging out are additional options in which students can engage for social interaction.
Able to identify with being young and in college, Wilson remembers some of the recurring personal questions for students.
“Why am I here? What am I going to do with my life? What degree program [should I choose]? Is anybody supporting me in this dream that I have? How do I interact with something larger than my nuclear family of two to three people, or five people? I’ve got to interact with society, and I’ve got to interact with people who aren’t like me. How do I do that? How do I meet a spouse?”
Wilson says the age demographic they work with is an important one. He reasons, “If credit card companies can target them, why can’t we positively target them?”
For students on a mission to probe their potential in the group, he wants to be encouraging.
“What I’d want them to know is that if you’re looking to make a connection with a community, we have enough touch-points throughout the week to where you can increase the probability of making a real connection.”
Practical areas of student need are not off-limits for CIA.
“I’m actually doing a class in the career center right now to help students get jobs, so I can put them in touch with the resources at the school [TCC] to get and retain a job.”
CIA can assist both personal and professional development, reinforcing the good foundation of identity for students. When stress comes, or the sense of a lack of purpose—the group can foster new movement in a positive direction, according to Wilson.
He emphasizes that connections in college last well beyond the degree termination, even into the business world.
“The younger generation is the future. You build a community that’s positive, and it extends beyond just a locality of getting an AA [associate of arts],” he says.
“They [students] are not going to know how much value they have to give, potentially, until they’ve either seen it modeled, or they have been invested in.”
Wilson has come to the conclusion through his years of working with young people that, “Life is just really short. Spend your time doing something that is worthwhile.”
Leaders within the organization want to model how to “stick-it-out” through tough times, die to a selfish nature and engage actively in serving others.
“Even when it’s not comfortable, or things are awkward—just [learn] to stick it out.”
Introduction to the group can be made at their regular meeting place, “20 Perk,” a coffee house located near 51st and Sheridan.
In the 18-month existence of CIA at the SEC, Wilson is happy with the progress. “It’s extremely gratifying to be giving back and facilitating a connection with the resources to help students grow.”
For more information, go to CIA’s Facebook page, “CIA at TCC Southeast”.
Questions? Josh Wilson can be reached by phone at (813) 335-6476.