Being that Light: Building a career helping others succeed

Kayton Carter laughs while advising a student
Kayton Carter laughs while advising a student

Kayton Carter, Executive Director of Academic Advising Enrichment, shares his first gen story.

Kayton Carter, MA recently became Executive Director for Academic Advising Enrichment at UC Davis. He was previously Executive Director of UC Davis’ three retention centers and four retention initiatives, which support African diaspora, Asian Pacific Islander, Chicanx and Latinx, and Native American students, and was founding director the Center for African Diaspora Student Success, UC Davis’ first Black student retention center. 

I attended community college to play football; so my initial interest in college had nothing to do with getting a college education. I just knew that in order to get to the NFL you had to go to college first, even if you only played in college for a couple years. I say that in all honesty because as a high school student I was not focused on academic development but on athletic development.

My parents were not college-educated, although my mom was a licensed vocational nurse and my father gained skills intermittently throughout his life after being incarcerated when I was young. I had an older brother who attended community college part-time while working full-time. He ended up leaving to go into the Army, so by the time I got to university I really had no template to follow.

I was influenced to go to college by my peers who had college-educated parents. But after graduating high school with a 2.03 GPA and realizing that one of the barriers for me to college was the SAT (where I underperformed on that standardized test on three separate occasions, getting progressively worse) I ended up at a community college. In fact, I attended six different community colleges before I transferred to UC Berkeley.

Falling in love with learning

While attending community college I was pursuing my athletic career. It wasn't until I got to UC Berkeley as a transfer student and started taking African-American Studies classes that I really fell in love with learning, and the concept of being learned. And I think it had a lot to do with seeing myself in people that look like me in different areas of study, which was not something that I was exposed to in my home nor in high school, and realizing that I had something to contribute other than my athletic promise.

So I abandoned the athletic route and really started soul searching for an area that nurtured my interest and offered a future. I had no template, especially as a transfer student in the 90s at UC Berkeley where support systems for transfer students were not as fine-tuned as they are now. Berkeley did not do general [interest] assessments when I was there, so I changed my major three times. My perceptions of professors would dictate what I thought I wanted to study, as opposed to what really interested me and nurtured my spirit.

Becoming the Light for Others
Kayton Carter with former student Brandon Coleman
Kayton Carter with former student Brandon Coleman

Throughout my time at UC Berkeley, I had jobs tutoring in after-school programs and

things of that sort, and I began to feel like my spirit would be nurtured by helping people with similar experiences to mine.

When I graduated, I worked as a DAPP (Drug Awareness Prevention Program) counselor for the Berkeley Unified School District. I was placed at Berkeley High School East Campus, which was a continuation program with students either on probation, was kicked out of other districts, and in some cases were young parents. So I was working with some adult students who were on probation. I realized that from the emotional standpoint I wasn't going to last long because it was all giving. It was exhausting in that way. But I also realized that getting an advanced degree would place me in a different area of education where I could help students like myself.  

I had an opportunity to attend a post-bac program at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts where I was able learn more and find my space in higher education that nurtures my commitment to the overall profession. The Institute for Recruitment of Teachers (IRT) helped prepare me for graduate school.

I knew that I wanted to work with underrepresented populations and I knew that being on a college campus gave me a sense of belonging as a professional.

I went on to earn my MA in higher education administration with an emphasis on student affairs, and am now finishing up a doctoral degree at the UC Davis School of Education where my research will focus on Black male retention/graduation. I came to UC Davis as an academic advisor nearly ten years ago, and have had the opportunity to establish a number of offices to support students. I am the author of the African American Strategic Retention Initiative; the founding director the Center for African Diaspora Student Success, UC Davis’ first Black student retention center, and the inaugural Executive Director of UC Davis’ three retention centers and four retention initiatives, which support African diaspora, Asian Pacific Islander, Chicanx and Latinx, and Native American students. And now I am stepping into the role of Executive Director of Academic Advising Enrichment, where I will have the opportunity to help shape advising throughout the campus.

In my work at UC Davis I have the opportunity both to create new systems of support for underrepresented populations, and to have personal relationships with many of them. I continue to meet with students who have had a similar upbringing to mine, similar undergraduate experiences as I had, and being that light at the end of the tunnel for them is what has kept me going.

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