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Student Life Mentors: Lawrence’s Leadership Goals Furthered Through Meaningful Connections

Austin Lawrence pictured with mentor Michael Hiles

After serving as president of student council and being heavily involved in sports during high school, it was natural that Austin Lawrence wanted to make an impact at Purdue University – he just wasn’t sure how.

Lawrence’s initial approach to finding a leadership position was to seek opportunities to impact the most amount of people he could. Lawrence says not knowing exactly what he was looking for led to some dead ends. Developing a friendship with his resident assistant, Matt Watkins, piqued Lawrence’s curiosity about becoming an RA and he discovered that the role suited him.   

“I was looking more to impact 40,000 students here and that really wasn’t what I needed,” says Lawrence. “I needed something like being a resident assistant where I can deal with a floor of about 50 residents or a hall that has 800 students and is more of a small-scale community. I feel like I’ve been able to be a lot more impactful and that it was definitely what I was looking for. I just didn’t know it at the time.”

Lawrence is now in his second year as a resident assistant in Harrison Hall, where he leads a floor of 47 students and works closely with participants in the Larsen Leaders Academy Residential Program, part of a partnership between University Residences and Krannert School of Management. As an accounting major who has served as a teaching assistant in Krannert, Lawrence is able to provide additional mentorship to his residents by relating his previous experiences with classes and other programs to students in the learning community.

“I obviously want to be a model for them and there’s about 20 kids who are doing exactly what I did two years ago,” says Lawrence. “I’m able to help all of those guys in concepts they don’t know. It’s been really cool being able to help them along their path. All the things I didn’t know before, I’m hoping to pass on to them.”

Lawrence was also an enthusiastic participant in the Men’s Leadership Series. It was there he met Michael Hiles, who served as the mentor for the group of students Lawrence was partnered with in the series. Hiles is no stranger to leading at Purdue, having served as a residence hall counselor and staff resident in Residence Hall Apartments North (now known as Hilltop Apartments).

Hiles’ mentorship beyond the series inspired Lawrence to nominate him for the Men’s Leadership Series Mentorship Award, which Hiles was presented with at the final series event. He says he saw the series as an opportunity to create meaningful connections.

“I just felt like this was my opportunity to be the best mentor that I can be,” says Hiles. “One of the things I remember in college was how important having somebody to be able to bounce ideas off of or be a good listener was, so I wanted to be that kind of person for these students.”

Lawrence says the lessons imparted by Hiles were helpful in framing his ways of thinking, particularly with regard to how to deal with failure.

“One of the things I really enjoyed that Michael would talk about is that failure is a kind of mindset,” says Lawrence. “There are going to be times where you’re going to fail on Monday, but it’s only a failure if you don’t chase it again on Tuesday. I think that as a leader you only fail someone if you stop trying to work with them. You only fail at an activity if you fail to continue to try to achieve what you were aiming for in the first place.”

After finishing his undergraduate degree this spring, Lawrence will work a summer internship with an accounting firm in Indianapolis before pursuing a Master of Science in Accounting at Purdue and preparing to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam. The principles of model, connect and involve communicated in Lead Simply by Sam Parker, the book read by participants in the series, figure heavily into his ideas of how to be successful in these next steps. He says he sees the lessons he’s learned as a mentor and mentee through his leadership experiences as an advantage as he pursues his future goals.

“I think if I can model, connect and involve with that firm and then bring that back to my class group, it sets me up to be really successful in the master’s program,” says Lawrence. “I think it also sets me up to be really successful with the CPA exam and hopefully when I go back to that firm in the future.”

It’s clear that through these experiences, Lawrence has found his leadership niche on campus and feels prepared as he pursues his next endeavors.