An Opportunity Orange Experience: A day with Kaden White
Tuesday, September 5, 2023
Media Contact: Mack Burke | Associate Director of Media Relations | 405-744-5540 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: STATE magazine spent a day with a member of Oklahoma State University’s new postsecondary program for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Kaden White’s day began with a 9:30 a.m. class for the Opportunity Orange Scholars, Topics II, where he sat front and center.
“I can’t believe we’re so far into the semester,” he quipped to the class.
The first half of class was spent discussing how to be professional in communication with professors and others in their networks regarding texting, calling and emailing.
White chuckled when Elizabeth Thomas — OOS project manager and instructor — asked if texting habits with friends and family should be different from texting with his boss or colleagues.
“Oh yeah, very different!” he said.
Discussion shifted to announcements about upcoming assignments. During the next class session, they would be cooking in the University Commons West dormitory kitchen while learning a recipe for microwave tacos.
With this new information, White perked up with excitement and assignments were made for which portions of the recipe each student would be responsible for providing.
“We tried to have a family dinner last week, but our schedules were too busy,” he shared of the OOS group while on the topic of meals. “We were going to make chicken sandwiches, so we’ll have to reschedule!”
Class carried on into conversation about preparing dorms for move out — this would be the final exam for the class.
Thomas spoke highly of White’s character in the classroom.
“He not only wants to be successful for himself, but he genuinely wants his peers and the other scholars of OOS to be successful,” she said. “He is always encouraging and motivating others along the way, which aligns perfectly with his career interest of wanting to work as a coach or have a leadership role for a professional sports team.”
After class, White took a route through the Student Union to check out what food options were available. With his favorite restaurants not yet open, he made his way to the OOS space in the basement of Nancy Randolph Davis West.
During this break between classes, White joined some of the other OOS students and their academic partners to talk through their courses and extracurriculars. Fellow OOS student Matt Sitton recruited White to help him film a short video for his emergency management elective. White, willing and ready, answered Sitton’s questions about the kinds of natural disasters that could occur in Oklahoma, dorm evacuation procedures and tornado preparedness.
Once filming ended, White joined Dr. Emily Tucker — OOS program director — and the other students to go over enrollment for their next semester of coursework at OSU. Ahead of the game, White had already submitted his enrollment, so he spent his time showing the others how to navigate the process.
Tucker shared that White has been a model student in the program.
“We have absolutely loved having Kaden in the program for our first year of having OOS students on the OSU-Stillwater campus,” she said. “OOS was designed for students just like Kaden. He is hard-working, motivated, passionate about OSU and ultimately just wants to develop a community he can meaningfully be a part of. It has been so fun to watch him thrive by getting involved in intramural sports on campus and to see him build connections with other students, faculty and staff across the university.”
Chelby Inman, fellow OSU student and White’s academic partner, arrived in the basement to check in with him.
“Working with Kaden has been nothing short of wonderful,” Inman said. “One of my favorite memories I have of him was during his first week of his sports marketing class. He told me that I needed to meet him in University Commons West by 6:45 a.m. to get to his class by 8 a.m. Granted, the walk from his dorm to the Spears School of Business was only about 20 minutes, but he did not want to risk being late.
“I got there right on schedule, and he was already sitting in the lobby waiting for me. As time went on, he got more comfortable with leaving later for class and was even able to tell me that I did not need to join him anymore.”
First on their to-do list — checking emails. White’s sports marketing professor, Clay Billman, helped to coordinate a meeting about an internship opportunity so they discussed developing a response. With the email complete, White told Inman all that was left to do was update his resume with his job at the Colvin Recreation Center.
“Throughout the semester, I saw him grow as a student and become more confident in his abilities,” Inman said.
White then met with Abbey Jeffries, also an OOS academic partner, to go over campus engagement goals and check CampusLink for upcoming events and activities. Kickball and pizza was the event he decided to attend for the week.
Jeffries shared how working with the OOS has been a source of personal growth as much as it has been a chance to provide support to the students.
“I initially heard about OOS from a parent of a student in my high school that I had peer-mentored for two years as part of our school’s inclusive program,” she said. “I had reached out to OOS leadership to become a volunteer and decided to apply as a program partner. This position has been a wonderful opportunity for me to go to school alongside the scholars and be someone for them to lean on academically, but also to build genuine friendships with them. I love seeing the progress the individual scholars make but also the progress of the program, especially in their first year.”
Approaching time for his next class, White made his way back across campus, stopping for lunch along the way.
Once again, he joined the OOS students for another program specific course titled seminar, led by Dr. Brandt Gardner.
Class started with casual chatter about what the group was up to before proceeding into the day’s topics.
“Who was the first person you told you’d been accepted to OSU’s Opportunity Orange Scholars program?” Gardner asked the class.
White coyly answered, “I told my mom before anyone else.”
The next person to learn the news was a favorite former teacher White referred to as Ms. Summers, from his hometown of Hominy, Oklahoma.
Throughout the period, White bantered with OOS classmate Maggie Suter about OSU Unified flag football. Suter plays on the team while White serves as a referee.
“I was told to throw the flag with purpose!” White laughed in response to her jests.
The students discussed their upcoming project, a meeting with selfselected individuals who would be part of their “Circle of Support.” The goal of the exercise is to identify individuals who the students can lean on in their areas of struggle and trust to keep them accountable to the goals they have set for themselves.
The assignment for the day was to determine an agenda for their personal meetings, with categories on what they were doing well, what they would like to do better and how their Circle of Support can help.
Much like any other student, the most common areas of improvement shared were in eating healthier, creating better sleep habits and sticking to exercise routines.
In White’s favorite elective, sports marketing, he shines. Sharing his insight on players’ stats and recent sports events is something Billman appreciates about White as a member of his class.
“He was a bit reserved at first, but he quickly became comfortable sharing his thoughts and opinions,” Billman said. “I know I can count on him to fill us in on the latest happenings. He is my NBA expert.”
His hard work and passion for sports landed him an internship with OSU Athletics working with the gameday marketing and promotions team for fall 2023, allowing him hands-on experience alongside other students and athletic department staff.
“I really hope OSU is able to expand OOS program in the coming years and provide a collegiate experience for many more students like Kaden,” Billman said. “It’s a game-changer, for sure.”
Q&A with Kaden
What has been the best part of your experience as an OOS student? What has been the most important thing you have learned?
The best part of OOS was coming to OSU as a freshman and experiencing college life. Learning how to become mature and independent has been important to me.
What made you choose sports marketing as your elective?
I chose sports marketing because I thought it would be a fun class to take and prepare me for my chosen career path.
What about your internship are you most excited for?
I will be working with athletics staff at games, getting to throw T-shirts and set up before football and basketball games and wrestling matches. I’m excited to have a sports pass to go to the events I’m not working.
What is your favorite part of your job at the Colvin?
I get to learn about multiple sports and see how they work. There are always new experiences. Plus, it’s within walking distance of where I live.
What are your hopes for yourself after completing your program at OSU?
I would like to live on my own somewhere in Oklahoma, with my own car and start a job as a basketball coach at a high school. The ultimate dream? To help bring an NFL team to Oklahoma City.
What advice do you have for the new group of OOS students that will be joining you in the fall?
College goes by fast, and it can be easy if you do your homework, keep up with class work and show up on time. Don’t skip class and keep yourself motivated. There are a lot of opportunities out there so don’t be afraid to ask for help and just be yourself. Choose the right friends to hang out with and don’t sit in your room all day playing video games — join a club or play sports at the Colvin.
Photos by: Gary Lawson
Story by: Kirsi McDowell | STATE Magazine