Giving back is in Brian Meeks’ nature. Whether it’s helping incoming first-year students find their niche at Syracuse University as an orientation leader or mentoring local elementary school children, he is always ready to lend a hand.
Meeks is from the small town of Hamilton, New York, where he graduated high school with a class of just 45 students. It was there that he got his first taste of volunteer work when he went on two mission trips to El Salvador. He worked on projects including digging ditches and plotting coordinates for water pipes.
The experience of doing outreach work and helping people less fortunate than himself struck a chord with Meeks, who says that volunteering became a priority for him after those trips.
Finding His Balance In and Out of the Classroom
As a high school student, Meeks had also discovered his passion for computer programming. There were no clubs for that in his small high school, so he taught himself. But he knew he didn’t want to be a programmer for the rest of his life and started thinking about incorporating a business degree into his college studies.
In his first year at Syracuse University, he took two courses that helped solidify his career plans: Perspectives of Business and Management with Professor John Petosa, which explores the role and responsibility of management in society; and Professor Jeffrey Rubin’s Information Technologies course, which focuses on computer architecture, telecommunication networks, and software design and application. After taking Rubin’s class, Meeks knew he’d found the balance he wanted in his academic pursuits. He pursued a technology consulting track within his dual major— information management and technology through the School of Information Studies and supply chain management through the Martin J. Whitman School of Management .
As a management student, Meeks also joined the professional business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi , whose members complete professional development projects and work on community service events. The chapter hosts a blood drive each semester, as well as the ’Cuse vs. Cancer 5k run/walk to raise money for the Jim and Julie Boeheim Foundation at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse.
Volunteering and Helping Others While at Syracuse
With his dedication to service, Meeks sought out volunteer experiences through the Office of Engagement Programs , where he was introduced to Empathy Matters, a program that fosters empathy and leadership among second-grade students. Meeks was paired with a local elementary school student for whom he acted as a mentor. He and the other volunteers worked with their students to teach them empathy, patience and how to focus on schoolwork. Through games and activities, including role-playing, puppy therapy and art projects, Meeks helped his mentee build confidence and leadership skills.
“My mentee was an at-risk student, so he was someone from a very different background than myself,” Meeks says. “He really came out of his shell through the program. He would race down the hallway and cause all sorts of mayhem,” Meeks recalls with a laugh. “He reminded me of me when I was younger—an Energizer bunny who didn’t want anyone to tell him what to do.”
Meeks also made a point of getting out into the community to interact with locals by volunteering with the University United Methodist Church’s food pantry on Friday mornings. While other seniors were still sleeping, he stocked shelves and helped customers find the food they needed. “It was extremely humbling,” says Meeks. “It’s easy for Syracuse University students to feel separated from the community, so getting involved with people from the city was a really eye-opening experience.” While helping them get groceries, Meeks got to know them. Some families needed basic supplies like diapers, while others just wanted a warm place to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee and fellowship.
Motivated by a desire to help new students feel comfortable when they come to campus, Meeks became an orientation leader his senior year. “I remember thinking that orientation leaders were some of the most insane people on campus! I never thought I could do that, but it was an awesome time,” he says of the experience. “I wanted to help at least one first-year student who was feeling out of place.”
Continuing Service After College
Now that he has graduated, Meeks is looking forward to what comes next. Part of that will be continuing to volunteer in his community. “Doing service work will definitely be important throughout my life,” he says. One issue that has always interested him is climate change, and he hopes to do some work around that issue. Still, he says, it’s not the size of what you do that’s important; it’s being involved in something outside of yourself that is. “You don’t have to feed 1,000 people to make an impact. You could feed just one and make all the difference in the world.”
Meeks will balance that desire to help others with the demands of his new job as a technology consultant with Deloitte U.S. He tapped into Whitman’s vast network to form relationships with alumni, who helped him get his foot in the door at Deloitte. He’ll be living in New York City—an adjustment for someone who describes himself as “outdoorsy”—but he’s excited to start the next chapter in his life and grateful for the lessons he’s learned and practical experience he’s gained at Syracuse University.
“Life at Syracuse really taught me about balance between academics, friends, service, clubs and more,” reflects Meeks. “Syracuse University offered me so many opportunities. I’ve become a well-rounded individual and feel ready to take on the real world because of that.”