Monthly Archives: August 2015

Grambling Alumnus Finds Success at CenturyLink


By Angelita Faller

Toby Shoulders, GSU Grad and CenturyLink EmployeeToby Shoulders was always a hard worker, but he often wonders if a bit more hard work at Grambling State University would have saved him from the years he spent working in a job that was far removed from his college education.

“Setting goals and knowing what you want to do is a good thing,” said Shoulders, who is now an information technology engineer at CenturyLink in Monroe. “It’s best to start early. If you wait until the senior year of college (to network), it’s going to be hard to make it. If I had done an internship, I may have gotten a full-time job sooner.”

After graduating from Wossman High School in Monroe in 2002, Shoulders enlisted in the U.S. Army and started attending classes at Louisiana Tech and later Grambling State University. In 2004, he left for a 13-month deployment in Afghanistan. He returned to Grambling in 2007 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems in 2010.

Like many recent college graduates, Shoulders had difficulty finding work in his major. He became the manager of Journeys Shoe Store in Monroe to support his growing family. He and his wife, Ashley, have three young daughters: Abriana, Corinthian and Ashlyn.

“Like everyone else, I always wanted a dream job, but it wasn’t easy,” Shoulders said. “I ended up becoming a store manager at a shoe store, and I climbed as high as I could. That wasn’t the path that I was looking for, but at the time I had to settle for what I could find, because I had a wife and kids, and I had to put food on the table.”

However, Shoulders never gave up on his dream of working in information technology, and he had the chance to return to IT as the first successful participant of an innovative apprenticeship program developed by CenturyLink in 2013 to recruit potential employees with a background in information technology.

“The goal of this program is to look for people in the Monroe area who have a college degree and some sort of IT connection who are either underemployed, or are in transition, or unemployed,” said Odell Riley, vice president of corporate services and chief diversity officer at CenturyLink.

One of Shoulders’ classmates from Grambling, who was working at CenturyLink at the time, ran into Shoulders at the shoe store he managed and passed Shoulders’ resume on to a professional staffing agency who was reviewing candidates for CenturyLink’s work program. They contacted Shoulders the very next day.

“Toby had all the experience you look for in a manager. Toby had proved that he was a leader, and that, with his IT degree, got him in the door,” said Grant Lockey, vice president of Progressive IT. “He showed up dressed to a tee in a suit and out-dressed us all. He came in and was so impressive. It was unanimous that he was a go. This kid was getting hired no matter what. He had all the skills. We just identified him.”

Shoulders was one of the first two participants to enter the work program, where he would rotate between different IT departments at CenturyLink every three months to determine where he fit into the company.

Within six months, Shoulders had been offered a full-time position with CenturyLink, something his supervisors attribute to his willingness to work hard and learn new technology in a fast-paced environment.

“Toby stepped up to the plate during his time, has worked very hard and is working out very well,” said Riley. “One of the things that attracted us to Toby was his integrity, his commitment to improving himself and his career, his eagerness to become part of CenturyLink, and his willingness to come in and work and to learn new things in a new environment.”

Meanwhile, Shoulders is using his experience to give back to his alma mater and help prepare Grambling students for the all-important job search. He has already served as a guest speaker to students at the Center for Student Professional Development (CSPD) and will be a mentor in the center’s mentoring program.

“Toby will be a great mentor. Although his personal journey didn’t unfold as he had planned or expected, he did not give up,” said Greta Carter, director of CSPD. “He continued to learn from the experiences that were presented to him.  He remained focused on what he ultimately wanted, and because he shared his goals with his friend, Toby’s network expanded to include the people that could help him get to where he wanted to be.”

While Shoulders loves his new career in information technology at CenturyLink, he also wants people to learn from his story and understand that they should not give up on their career dreams.

“Sometimes we get sidetracked, but we are still able to meet our goals,” he said. “For the most part, each day is going to bring something different. There are different challenge and different opportunities.”

“Freeing The Tiger Within – Grambling’s Customer Service Excellence”


Willie D. Larkin, Ph.D.
Grambling State University

As Grambling State University confronts challenging and extraordinary times, we will, inevitably, come upon a fork in the road. One path can take our beloved Grambling down the rabbit hole, fraught with peril, uncertainty and hard times. Another path can challenge us to excellence, passion and excitement. When I think about these pathways – this fork in the road – it becomes clear to me that Grambling’s pathway to ultimate success hinges on all of Grambling’s employees delivering the highest level and highest quality of customer service and professional development. From the moment I walked on the campus, I made it my mission to show that our pathway is one of customer service – service with a smile, service with a purpose and service with a mission.

Picture this. You are a family thinking about the best, the brightest and the most welcoming college campus for your child. You walk up to an administrator, faculty, staff member or groundskeeper and ask an innocuous question, such as “Where is admissions?” The Grambling employee can choose to go down either the rabbit hole by responding “it’s down the road in room….” Or, the Grambling employee can respond, “Welcome to Grambling State University! How can I help you? Please, follow me. I will point you exactly where to go or let me take you there.” Which response frees the tiger within and leaves the family feeling welcome and appreciated?

Please join me as we think about the faculty and students returning to the campus from a well-deserved summer vacation. Even during my short tenure over the past one and a half months, I have noticed a heightened enthusiasm and level of energy displayed by the people I am encountering. The feeling is almost electric! Perhaps it the excitement of having a new president, or perhaps it is the deeply held belief that Grambling is embarking upon a new agenda, a new set of core values and a renewed purpose for learning. Regardless of the reason, as president, I am going to embrace the momentum by stating that while Grambling is a university, a citadel of learning, it is also a business that needs customers to survive and thrive. Students and their families are our customers. They are our raison d’être – our reason for existence.

To help better understand and appreciate our customers, our recently created electronic suggestion box ( has shown us that the greater Grambling community would like to see more emphasis placed on first-class customer service. Our goal, our mission, our raison d’être, are the students! They are, without question and without argument, our top priority for Grambling. Yet, we know that students become tomorrow’s policymakers, scientists, educators and business leaders due, in large part, to the teaching and learning provided to them from Grambling’s exceptional faculty and staff.

To help make sure that excellence in customer service is an everyday occurrence, a common practice, and our very duty, I will soon establish a Customer Service and Professional Development Task Force. The committee will be composed of members from all levels within the university community. The members will be tasked with conducting an environmental scan and analysis of current customer service practices and challenges at Grambling State University, and held accountable in providing recommendations on how weak areas can immediately be improved and how strong areas can become even stronger. In other words, our goal is to “fix those things that are not working and improve upon those things that are already working well.”

How will this Task Force function? The Task Force will collect survey data from external and internal constituents and provide the university a snapshot of where Grambling stands in the hearts and minds of the Grambling family. The Task Force will be charged with preparing a briefing report – a report card of sorts – that outlines immediate concerns and opportunities. Preliminary recommendations will be provided as to short-, mid- and long-range objectives and strategies that can be used to engage and improve the larger university community in an ongoing effort to achieve excellence in customer service and the student experience at Grambling. This new strategy of extraordinary customer service will position Grambling to become the nation’s friendliest and most inviting university. Indeed, in this age of individualized consumer experiences and instantaneous communication via social and mass media, it may be this latter characteristic – the “personal touch” – that defines a university’s “brand” more than any other characteristic.

Customer service presents the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) with an interesting dilemma and many challenges. Since their inception, HBCUs have prided themselves on treating their students and personnel “like family.” Grambling, for example, affectionately call ourselves “GramFam.” This close-knit atmosphere continues to exert a powerful influence over recruitment and retention procedures, as well as the involvement of alumni in the life of the institution. However, I must share with you that, nationally, it has been noticed that there is a waning of interest in HBCUs, an almost indifference to these heritage-rich institutions. Questions are routinely raised in the media as to whether HBCUs are needed any longer? I say to everyone that HBCUs and Grambling, specifically, we must continue to make ourselves even more inviting and attractive to African Americans while, at the same time, relevant and inviting to the rich diversity of other racial and ethnic groups as well. My goal is to expand Grambling’s appeal to a broader constituency, to include international students, military personnel and veterans, new immigrants and others to become part of the GramFam and to experience the love for Grambling as we walk together as One Grambling!

Today’s students have many more options than they once had. Grambling must work harder than ever to win over the hearts and minds of new students and transfer students to attend our beloved university. This past weekend I flew back into Monroe, Louisiana, from a trip to Washington, D.C., and I sat next to a high school student who was reading an extremely thick book about being environmentally conscious. I could tell by her conversation that she was an extremely smart student, and I began to actively recruit her to attend Grambling State University. Regrettably, she declined by stating “I don’t want to go to Grambling.” Her reasons sounded legitimate, but I would not take no for an answer. I began to sell her on the “value propositions” of Grambling and before the trip ended, I had her at least rethinking her initial response to me. You see, I am always “selling” the value, the idea and the rich legacy of Grambling State University everywhere I go. Young people need to know that no matter what their dreams and goals are they can get on the right path through the embrace of Grambling State University.

Consistent with Grambling’s theme of “ONE GRAMBLING: Honoring History, Keeping Promises and Fulfilling Dreams,” we must ALL set high standards and expectations for the institution in which we all embrace. As Grambling wrestles with new and innovative changes, each and every one of us will see a brighter day forward in higher education in North Louisiana. As president, I believe we are on a path to greatness, and I look forward to traveling on this journey with our outstanding faculty, students, staff, supportive alumni and a host of other allies who believe in the “G.” Please join me in freeing the tiger within by becoming a customer service ambassador.

During my out of town travels this past weekend, I was further encouraged at the Grambling Washington, D.C. Alumni Chapter’s Annual Alumni Picnic. Through their efforts, this extraordinary group of alumni raised close to $18,000 in 10 minutes! They did not do this for ego, expectation or obligation. They did it for the love of Grambling, which always encourages wonderful alumni support.

Following on a previous announcement, the results of the 10 for $10 Challenge Campaign will be announced during one of Grambling’s special events at the 2015 Bayou Classic in New Orleans. The decision to push the announcement back is based on the fact that the campaign is going so well that we want to give more people an opportunity to be a part of giving in support of Dear Ole’ Grambling. I want to thank all of the people who have made contributions thus far and thank those who will give between now and the end of November.