Dodson Found Independence, Academic Success, Happiness at The University of Alabama

By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Assistant

(Editor's Note: Our lead writer here at the Center for Community-Based Partnerships completed this profile of our top work-study student, Zach Dodson, on the day we learned of his sudden death.)

Zachary David Dodson did not come to the University of Alabama looking for two national football and gymnastics championships or to be named Student Employee of the Year. He came here searching for independence and an education.

"I wanted to get away from home," said Dodson, 21, a Jacksonville, Fla., native. "I wanted to have my own independent lifestyle for a while. I didn't expect the championships. I didn't expect the awards and accolades, or a great place to work."

The economics major visited several other campuses "” University of Mississippi, University of Michigan and the University of North Florida ­"” before settling on UA.

"This was my favorite. The campus "¦ it's beautiful," said Dodson, who said he had no regrets about his selection. "It was everything I thought it would be and more."

Student supervisors from throughout the university nominated students for the award presented by UA's Financial Aid, which administers the Federal Work Study program for the campus.

"Mr. Dodson is not only one of our most intelligent and resourceful students; he is also one of the most willing to help out with whatever task is at hand," wrote Dr. Ed Mullins, director of the Center for Community-Based Partnership's Office of Research and Communication, when recommending Dodson for the award. "As an economics major, he has a GPA of 3.71 and has been selected to both the Dean's List and President's List."

Although this was the second year Dodson was employed by the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, he said he had no idea he was up for the award.

"I was really surprised because I didn't even know they had nominated me or that they thought that highly of me," Dodson said. "I told my mom. She was really happy for me."

Dodson took his job seriously, but said he knows not all students treat work-study positions as "real work." However, he offered this advice to student workers: "Don't get into the habit of thinking of it like government money or free money. Take it seriously and have a great attitude."

He said students should not treat this federally funded program "like something you should be entitled to, because maybe in the future there won't be any money for it."

During this tenure at CCBP, Dodson preformed various office duties and assisted with conferences and events sponsored by the office. In addition, he wrote press releases and assisted with the various publications produced by the office.

"I do whatever they ask me to. They've taught me to do a lot of stuff," Dodson said. "I've worked with everyone in the office."

His recommendation was a reflection of his efforts.

"Zach approaches every assignment with concentrated attention and performs these assignments in an exemplary manner," wrote Mullins. "Some students have a narrow comfort zone; but not Zach. Regardless of which of our several offices assigns him a work task, he carries it out as if that office were the only one he worked for. He is simply one of our best and most loyal students."

Dodson said he hoped his work-study assignment would be the kind of work environment he hopes to find upon entering the work-force full-time.

"If you like the people you work with and you enjoy your job; then it's going to be great," Dodson said. "There's a lot of diversity in this office. We have fun, but we also work hard for the community. It's very flexible, but they want you to work and get things done."

In addition to these job-related skills, Dodson said he learned much about himself in college.

"School was a big part of it, but the whole college experience of having to deal with everything on your own and keeping commitments on your own time was a big part of growing up and becoming independent," Dodson said.

The former Florida Gators fan, said it only took one season to convert him to a Bama fan.

"I used to wear my Gator pajamas around the dorm and I'd get funny looks," said Dodson, who was a huge Tim Tebow fan when he came to UA. "No one wanted to hear that, but it only lasted the first year. I'm an Alabama fan now."

Dodson said he is most proud of having graduated in four years, something he promised his parents, Paul and Tara Stutts, if he could go to school out of state.

"That was the key thing for me," Dodson said. "If you are out of state you need to get in and get out. I took five classes and I went to summer school."

Looking at the next step in his career, Dodson was excited about life and the prospect of selling insurance and/or remaining at UA for graduate school.

"I'm ether going to grad school here for an MBA or marketing degree, or go and work," he said. "I'm looking at AFLAC right now."

In addition to Mullins, directors Christopher Spencer and Heather Pleasants also wrote letters supporting Dodson's award. And the Center's fourth director, Angelicque Blackmon, initiated discussion to set up, as she said, "a scholarship opportunity for an undergraduate student to complete a project involving engagement scholarship that would continue Zach’s legacy."