Myla Croft, a senior in political science from St. Louis, is Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s 2022 Lincoln Academy of Illinois student laureate. (Photo by Russell Bailey)
CARBONDALE, Ill. — From her volunteer work with the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Illinois, helping with a music program through the Jackson County State’s Attorney’s Office and her numerous activities on campus, Myla M. Croft exemplifies the 2022 Lincoln Academy of Illinois student laureate for Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
“In my household, we think that giving is very important. It’s pretty important for me to give back to the community,” said Croft, of St. Louis, Missouri, who graduated in 2020 from Grand Center Arts Academy, a charter high school. “Everything that I do involves community service. I think in life it’s important when you are climbing up the ladder to reach back and lift as you climb.”
Croft is pursuing a degree in political science and a minor in global studies and specialization in prelaw. She is a University Honors Program student with a 3.93 GPA, a McNair Scholar and recipient of several scholarships. Croft will graduate in May 2023 and is applying to law schools, where she wants to focus on immigration law. She also wants to pursue a master’s degree in social work or public policy.
Croft is the 48th SIU Carbondale student to receive the Abraham Lincoln Civic Engagement Award, dating back to 1975. Student laureates are honored for their leadership and service in pursuit of the betterment of humanity and for overall excellence in curricular and extracurricular activities. The Lincoln Academy of Illinois presents the awards to one outstanding graduating senior from each of the state’s four-year colleges and universities, as well as one from the state’s community colleges. The Lincoln Academy of Illinois recently released its 2022 congratulatory program.
Elizabeth Donoghue, University Honors Program assistant director and Croft’s mentor in the program, wrote in her nomination that Croft positioned herself as a very effective and inspiring student leader who exceeded her required 20 hours of volunteer service each academic year.
“She is not afraid of challenging herself and has leaned into almost every opportunity that is presented to her in a sincere and refreshing way,” Donoghue said. “I find that Myla’s commitment to service is an authentic and natural extension of her commitment to improving lives, which drives her academic and personal pursuits.”
Connecting with fellow Salukis
Croft came to SIU in fall 2020 when many classes were still online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While at the start she didn’t feel as connected with other students, Croft said that changed quicky. Her many activities and community service work include participating in Saluki Scholars in Action, mentoring young students with their homework and personal enrichment activities. She helped coordinate Ready to Play, where children receive free musical instrument lessons. In addition to her policy internship program through the Jackson County State’s Attorney’s Office, Croft is vice president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Club, secretary of Black Women’s Task Force, a member of the Association of Black Psychologists on campus and is a peer mentor in the College of Liberal Arts. She was recently selected to be the third vice president for the Southern District of the Illinois Association of Colored Women’s Clubs for the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs.
Being able to focus on community service, particularly with activities through the National Association of Colored Women’s Club, Croft said, helped her grow as a person.
“I was pretty shy before joining it. Now I am more out of my shell,” she said.
The 2016 presidential election piqued Croft’s interest in immigration issues and the law.
“As an African American woman, I thought it would be something completely different and a good opportunity to help people,” she said.
Spending the summer in research
Croft this summer participated in the university’s McNair Scholars Program summer research institute, where she compared and examined the executive actions taken by President Biden and former President Trump in relation to Mexican asylum seekers. Croft analyzed government documents, executive orders and news reports, spending of lot of time in Morris Library ferreting out information. Through the process, she developed a love for research.
“You learn a lot doing research, and it makes you look at things from a different perspective,” she said.
Croft’s research mentor, Stephen Bloom, a political science professor in the School of Anthropology, Political Science and Sociology, noted that in looking at the roots of opposition to immigration to the United States, especially illegal crossings at the U.S. southern border, Croft “proposed and developed rival political and economic causes for the backlash at the border. In her paper, she made a compelling argument that political causes were more important predictors of anti-immigrant views.”
“Myla has a genuine interest in the world around her and wants to know how it works,” he said. “She also has developed an interest in and aptitude for research.”
Family connection to SIU
Croft said her drive to be involved is internal, but she also credits her mother, Rochelle Robinson, in the effort. Croft is a second-generation Saluki; her mother earned a bachelor’s degree in biological science in 1997.
“My mom pushes me pretty hard to succeed, but I look for opportunities myself,” Croft said.
With her mother being an alumna, Croft visited the campus during an open house and liked that the campus was “pretty diverse,” she said, noting that available financial aid and scholarship money helped. SIU also does not charge out-of-state tuition.
There are opportunities for students to become active in organizations and research.
“You can pretty much find what your area of interest is and then find other people who have that same interest,” she said.