After spending three semesters as Barton Student Government Association president, Keisha Parker, a 2015 graduate, has moved to a higher level of government involvement. She is a staff assistant for North Carolina’s senior Senator Richard Burr.
Burr, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has been in the spotlight in recent weeks as he has led hearings on President Donald Trump’s nominees for cabinet posts.
“Being Student Government president at Barton prepared me for life on the Hill by giving me the skills to work with various types of people on a professional level,” said Parker.
“During my time as president, I was able to work with the student body to figure out what they wanted to make college more enjoyable,” she added. “That communication skill applies to my job in the Senate. Every day I am listening to North Carolina constituents on their feelings towards what the Senator is doing or what they want to be done.
“The skills that I learned while being president made this aspect of my job that much easier.”
Parker, began her association with Burr her last semester at Barton, serving as an intern in Burr’s office. After she graduated, she was offered a full-time position as staff assistant.
“Keisha Parker is a natural leader; she sees things that need to be done and does them,” said Rick Stewart, her adviser and instructor in communications at Barton. “She has the admiration of her peers, because they know she gets things done.” said Richard Stewart, assistant professor of communications.
Stewart said he wasn’t surprised when she said she wanted to become a peer leader in his First Year Seminar class. He remembers noticing her leadership skills early during the semester.
“She just had a very positive influence on the campus,” said Sarah Biddix, a senior nursing major and close friend of Parker. Biddix explained how Parker tried to attend every school event, was involved with Greek life and supported the sports teams as much as she could.
When Biddix transferred to Barton College from UNC-Wilmington in 2014, she met Parker. “She was one of the first people I met on campus. She was super outgoing, really friendly and very inclusive,” Biddix said.
Before Parker began her journey at Barton, she had already been accustomed to changing environments and meeting new people.
She was born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, but lived in many other places, such as Guam, Kansas and Virginia. One place stood out, though. “Guam was amazing. I lived there from kindergarten to fourth grade. It is the best possible place to grow up,” said Parker.
Reflecting on her time in the U.S. island territory, she talked about differences in the culture of Guam and the United States “They have a more relaxed mind frame. Everyone is not rushing around like they are on the mainland,” said Parker.
Having a father in the military led to the geographical variation during Parker’s childhood. The constant relocating led to her becoming close to her brother Landon, who’s currently a college freshman college in Ashevill.
“He is my favorite person, best friend and rock,” Parker said about her brother. “Our friends would change, but the constant thing that remained was each other.”
When Parker visited Barton in the summer of 2011, still a high school student, she was unsure about where she should go to college. Leaving her family was a big step, but after her orientation tour, she said that it immediately felt like she belonged at Barton.
“I knew right then and there that I wanted to make Barton my home for the next four years,” Parker said. While she came to Barton with the intention to major in nursing, Parker credits Stewart for her choice to pursue a mass communications degree.
“During one of my first classes, he incorporated some mass communication,” Parker said about Stewart. “I really enjoyed his teaching style so I took more of his classes and next thing I knew; I was declaring mass communications as my major.”
Parker chose to focus on broadcasting and public relations, but in the spring of 2016, she took a step in a slightly different direction.
“My internship was in Washington, D.C. working for Sen. Richard Burr. It was an experience that was way different than anything I have done before,” said Parker.
Her former professor wasn’t surprised that she managed to get such a prestigious internship. She has a combination of a great personality and ability to get things done, which is a recipe for success, said Stewart.
She had never been particularly interested in politics, but living in Washington D.C. was appealing, Parker said. Working for Burr taught her the inner workings of government affairs. It made her realize that the work to pass legislation is much more extensive than she expected.
“I got to go to hearings and committee meetings. As well as give Capitol building tours,” Parker said. “It was just a great experience that lead to an amazing job in the city I love.”
Prior to her internship, she had already gotten plenty of practice giving tours. Parker was an orientation leader at Barton for three years. “She’s one of the best orientation leaders I have had the opportunity to work with,” said Jared Tice, dean of students.
An orientation leader welcomes new students to Barton and help them adjust during the first few days on campus. With a limited professional staff to facilitate orientations, students working as orientation leaders play an important role in the process of welcoming new students, said Tice.
The ideal orientation leader is engaging, outgoing and fun. Parker embodies all those characteristics and more, said Tice.
The internship in the U.S. Capitol turned into a job as a staff assistant for Burr after graduating. It made her realize that she might want to continue working in politics. Moreover, the change of venue also led to personal realizations.
“I learned that being the most popular person doesn’t really matter. Having a few close friends that you can have amazing experiences with is worth more than having a ton of friends that just know your name,” said Parker.
Even though she enjoys living in the capital, Parker had to adjust her lifestyle. “City living is expensive so you have to learn to balance your social life,” she said. Washington D.C. was ranked the fifth most expensive city to live in during 2016, according to Investopedia.
Parker met a lot of great people at Barton. After graduating, she realized that friendships are not replaceable. “Some people were placed in your life at specific times for certain reasons. Just be grateful for everyone that takes the time to hear you out,” Parker said.
“She’s one of the best friends you can have. She goes out of her way all the time to help out,” said Biddix. “If I ever need to talk or ask for advice, she’s always there.”
Biddix explained how she and Parker only see each other every couple of months since Parker moved to Washington, D.C., primarily because of the difficulty in finding a time that fits both their schedule.
Parker has many good memories during her four years at Barton, but being chosen homecoming queen was one of her favorites. “It was just a great feeling knowing that your peers valued you as a person,” said Parker.
It seemed as Parker knew everybody on campus, said Biddix.
“My Barton experience is a combination of self-realization and involvement,” said Parker. One of her most important discoveries in college was about herself, she said.
“Being at Barton opened up a door for me to truly express myself,” Parker said. “In high school you try to fit into these boxes to get along with people or to fit in with a certain group. At Barton, you can just be yourself and you will find success. It was just refreshing to be able to have the opportunity to be whoever I wanted.”
Being whoever she wanted turned out to be a busy, but enjoyable, challenge, she said. Parker was the sophomore representative and president for the student government association (SGA) during her entire junior year and fall of senior year. She was also the chair head for The Triangle, Tri Sigma sorority’s national magazine.
“I had a great passion for making Barton better. By working with the student body, faculty and staff and board of trustees I feel like the SGA was able to make Barton a little better,” Parker said.
Tice echoed Parker’s sentiment and praised her performance as SGA president. “She’s really organized and made sure other executives were on their tasks. She did a great job bringing new events for the SGA to campus,” said Tice.
To current Barton students, Parker recommended getting involved on campus and taking advantage of the leadership opportunities. “Experience in leadership will definitely boost your resume,” Parker said.
Above all things, Parker emphasized having fun. “Do things that you don’t think you will be able to do once you graduate. Take a class for fun, study abroad, run for president of a club. Just take advantage of everything that is available to you,” she said.
While her immediate plan is to continue working with Burr in Washington D.C., she wants to travel and make a living doing so in the future. While she’s currently not sure what such an undertaking would entail, she’s determined to make it happen.
“Through all these opportunities I was able to really understand what Barton was all about: inspiring futures. Barton made me realize that in order to achieve what I wanted to do, I had to step out and make things happen,” Parker said.
By Marcus Strath