Montreece Payton: No Road Not Taken
As a graduate of the California Academy of Mathematics and Sciences on the CSU Dominguez Hills campus, senior Montreece Payton (Class of ’06, B.A., English) transitioned from high school to college on the same campus.
“Being at CSUDH afforded me many opportunities I don't feel I would have had at other schools,” says the McNair Scholar. “I have received numerous scholarships and awards and also been heavily involved in many national student organizations, working to get them up and running on campus.”
Along with her experiences as a member of the service learning project JusticeCorps and Gamma Phi Delta, Payton has taken on the office of president of Beta Lambda Kappa (BLK), the Black Honors Society. She has worked, often alone, to establish her chapter’s presence on campus after the Dominguez Hills membership was merely a branch of the UC Berkeley chapter.
“We kept the name, the colors, and the overall concept of African American students creating an honors society among themselves,” she says. “But we added so much more, focusing on the whole student, emphasizing the importance of service and contributing to the communities we were raised in and also to the young people coming behind us.”
Payton, who carried a full course load and works in the Financial Aid accounting office on campus, took responsibility for every aspect of BLK’s image on campus. These tasks included acquiring recognition of the national chapter and coming up with a chapter uniform, as well as taking on aggressive efforts in order to increase membership as a one-woman interview board.
“I am very passionate about this organization because I have put a lot of my own money and a whole lot of my time into it,” she says. “Because my name is on it, I didn't want to see it represented poorly. For many events we have done on campus over the past couple of years, departments such as Student Development have witnessed that I volunteer to work, many times alone, so that BLK could get recognition and a good reputation on campus. Now, because of that, more students, faculty, and departments, are inquiring about the organization and who we are. I also serve as secretary and treasurer of our organization until we can get more help to do it. I am a jack-of-all trades when it comes to BLK, but I will do whatever I have to do to get it off the ground and flying steadily.”
Payton also serves as the vice president for the CSUDH chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and is working to enhance its presence on campus.
Upon graduating this summer, the California native will begin a research internship at UC Riverside with Amalia Cabezas of the Women’s Studies department there, doing a psychological and sociological study on women and HIV/AIDS in the United States and its territories. After that, she will begin work on her master’s degree in English at CSUDH.
“I look forward to grad school. As a McNair scholar I have no choice, really,” she quips. “I changed my major in the middle of my sophomore year to English literature, and it was the beginning of something wonderful. I took one of my first courses with Dr. Molly Youngkin (assistant professor of English), who taught Practice in Literary Criticism. She taught it so well it influenced me to pursue this beyond my undergrad work and to do more research in this particular field.
“Through the McNair program, I was able to carry out that research with Dr.
Helen Oesterheld, (assistant professor of English), who was my mentor in my study examining Christian criticism and 20th century American poetry, using T.S. Eliot as a case study.”
This project led to Payton’s work on “The Triple-O Theory: A Practical Guide to Christian Literary Theory,” which focused on Christian theology and hermeneutics (a philosophical technique concerned with the interpretation and understanding of texts), and the application of both to literature to explain religious referencing in poetry and literature. She presented this research in various forms at conferences, including the Southern California Conference for Undergraduate Research in 2005.
Payton, who is a tutor with Academic Advantage, plans to someday take her mentorship of students to the next level and become a professor of English literature, “hopefully at CSUDH or UCLA.” She hopes to earn her Ph.D. and go on to write literary theory.
“Dr. Youngkin, Dr. Oesterheld, and Dr. Jennifer Vega-La Serna (director, McNair Scholars Program) have all influenced me in terms of research and helped me realize the potential that I have to go on to get a Ph.D.,” says Payton. “Being in the McNair program, working with faculty in the English Department, and my involvement on campus have all made for a very memorable experience here at CSUDH. With this experience, I have been inspired to teach students in BLK and the high school and middle school students that I mentor individually, that the road I took has been hard, but worth it.
“I have learned how they can make their college journey much easier, and it has become part of my life's purpose to educate young people on not only the importance of college, but how to perform with excellence so that they can pursue a graduate degree, which will ultimately make getting into the job market easier.”
- Joanie Harmon