C.J. Pulluaim gets his confidence from campus involvement
What brought you to UMKC?
I am a second-generation non-traditional student. My mom adopted me when she was 38 and I was six. Then she went back to school. We used to sit in the hallway while she was taking classes at Penn Valley. When she was 51 she graduated from UMKC with her master’s degree in social work.
When I first got out of high school I just started working. My aunt works at UMKC in the cafeteria, and when I was 24 she said, “so many people at UMKC are older. It’s a mixed bag. You can still go to college.” So I tried, and now I’m succeeding and getting things done. It’s been a truly wonderful experience.
My mom passed away two years ago, during my first year at UMKC. I have my mom’s master’s degree diploma so I can put my degree next to it when I graduate. And then when I get my master’s degree from UMKC, we’ll have all three degrees hanging up in my house. That’s gonna be a great moment.
You’ve got to put your heart into stuff, and UMKC is a great place to do that.
How did you choose your major?
When I first started college I was psych major. I wanted to be a profiler like on Criminal Minds. But when I started to study, history stuck out to me. It was inclusive. History is everything – it’s sociology, psychology, music and fashion. It’s what’s happening now, what has happened before, and – if you pay attention – what will happen next. History is this phenomenon that’s happening all around us. A lot of people don’t study history, so I think studying it and teaching it to others is important.
What do you like most about UMKC?
For me, it’s been my ability to be involved. I’m a member of 10 or 11 organizations on campus and I hold a lot of leadership positions. When I first got here, I told myself to focus on academics and not get involved. During my first semester, I went to class, I ate and I went home, every day. Eventually when I did get involved, I just joined everything I could.
The amount of success I’ve had as a member of the UMKC community and the connections I’ve made – it’s made me a better person. It’s changed my entire outlook on life.
What are your career goals?
I really think I want to work in diversity and inclusion, ensuring we have a diverse student body. Going to high schools and making sure they have access to college, and when they get here making sure they can succeed. Having retention for students of different cultures, fraternity and sorority affairs, anything that enriches student life and ensures success for all students.
What is your advice for incoming freshmen?
Make connections and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and find your tribe. It’s so important that we, as students, depend on each other. Trying to do it on your own is really hard. Drowning in classes, eating at the cafeteria – doing that by yourself is hard! So find people – that’s the best thing you can do.
At first I didn’t want to make friends with anyone, but I made a friend in a class. He changed me into a leader. I didn’t want to go, but he said, “you’re coming to my Men of Color meeting.” Ever since then I had the bug.
The amount of opportunities that come when you’re involved and you make connections are endless. You can spend four years in your dorm room or you can spend four years succeeding and making a name for yourself. College is 50 percent going to class and 50 percent auditioning for the rest of your life. The level of work you put in now will reflect on what you do when you get out in the world. You’ve got to put your heart into stuff, and UMKC is a great place to do that.
Tell us more about your radio show.
My radio show is called the Shady Bunch. I wanted to play off the Brady Brunch. It’s a pop entertainment talk show but we also do opinions. Everyone has a shade name. There’s nine of us, just like the Brady Brunch. We talk about Beyonce, we talk about sports, social justice, our campus, friendship and relationships. It’s really just about having a good time.
That’s one thing I always say – if you’re going to do something, do it loudly. If you live, live loudly. If you love, love loudly. Just be successful, love what you’re doing and live your life. Don’t let it pass you by. You only get one chance.
How has UMKC changed you?
As a black gay student, joining a group like Men of Color was hard for me because I didn’t always feel like I fit in. Now being a leader and having the respect of those members has changed my philosophy on how I deal with people.
People always tell me, “You’re so sure of yourself!” It wasn’t always that way. Part of that is because of the successes I’ve had here. The more I was able to succeed, the more confident I got.