Leon Humphrey Jr. always wanted to be on television. And he was, anchoring the newscasts produced by the stations operated within the magnet elementary and middle schools he attended in Knoxville. He also helped operate the audiovisual equipment at his church. “One of my biggest dreams,” he said, “was to have my own TV show.”
Although he is now a junior at ETSU majoring in media and communication with a concentration in radio, television and film, that dream is now Humphrey’s Plan B, for he discovered an entirely new career path through his extracurricular involvement on campus.
Humphrey came to ETSU as a preferred walk-on member of the new Buccaneer football team in 2014. Beset by frequent injuries, he left the team in November 2015 and soon found himself questioning, “What’s the reason I go to ETSU? Why am I here anymore?”
Following the example of his parents, who modeled and instilled in their children the values of cultural involvement and community service, Humphrey decided to explore other opportunities on campus.
He took his friends’ advice and joined the Preview and Orientation Leaders Organization (POLO) and started leading small groups of new students during those events, helping to acclimate them to campus life. He soon applied for an internship and now serves as a programs assistant in ETSU’s Office of New Student and Family Programs, which is led by Director Heather Levesque. In that role, he assists with team-building and educational activities, training, event preparations, and all orientation sessions, Preview and other events sponsored by the office.
“Once I started working for Heather,” Humphrey said, “I started loving what I was doing, and it made me want to go into higher education and work with students. One of the things I realized was that students’ first-year experience is very influential in their lives. It decides whether they want to stay at the university or complete college in general.
“There’s a lot of African American youth who don’t get to experience college due to monetary reasons, reasons at home, or other reasons, and I want to be influential, especially at East Tennessee State University, and show that black students can thrive at this predominantly white institution,” he continued. “I want to let black families know that I believe at ETSU, we are a community and we’re going to look out for our own.”
In addition to his work in New Student and Family Programs, Humphrey is active in a number of other areas on campus.
He joined Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, of which his father is also a member, when ETSU’s chapter rechartered in 2015, and has served as president, vice president and National Pan-Hellenic Council liaison. An Africana Studies minor, he has been active in ETSU’s Black Affairs Association and has been a demonstration organizer for Black Lives Matter and Unapologetically Black.
Although he has never run for a position in the Student Government Association, he attends and volunteers to help with major concerts and other campus events sponsored by the organization.
And Humphrey is one of two students who support the Buccaneers as “hype men” for the ETSU men’s basketball team, a gig he got after an athletic administrator noticed the great job he did leading a Homecoming pep rally.
“We get on the microphone and hype the fans up, get them active, get them in tune with the game,” he said. “Especially at the high level that ETSU’s playing right now, you want the fans to be engaged, you want the fans to have a good time, you want the fans to show their school spirit. You need people who can relate to the fans, to bring out that energy. The biggest part of that job is to get our fans energetic and lively, because that ‘sixth man’ is a big part of a game’s atmosphere.”
When he graduates in December 2018, Humphrey plans to go on to earn a master’s degree and perhaps a doctorate in student services, with a goal of becoming a student affairs leader in higher education.
“The more active I got on campus, the more I started to realize where my place was on campus and my goal for my future,” he said. “I would love to be in the student affairs area because of all the things that influence admission and retention. One of the biggest things schools focus on is making sure students are coming to class, are retained and get that degree, so they can go out into the community and be great citizens – and not only great citizens, but great citizens that come from their schools and they can talk about.”