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Creativity, Collaboration and Community Connection

February 22, 2023

These words sum up a unique education experience encountered by OBU graphic design professor Corey Fuller, OBU graphic design student Emma Carr, and OBU alumni Ryan Brooks.

This collective endeavor began in its early stages when Brooks, executive director of Mission Shawnee (now known as Uplift Mentoring), was implementing a re-branding strategy for what has long been known as Mission Shawnee. With the idea of utilizing the creative channels of OBU students, Brooks, a 2013 OBU alum, reached out to Fuller, chair of OBU graphic and design program. Fuller served as a board member of Mission Shawnee from 2019-2021 and knew of the agency’s vital role in the community.

Because of his connection with Fuller and the University, it seemed a natural fit for Brooks to think of OBU’s ad design class to assist with the re-branding project. There, he introduced the students to the history, vision and goals of Mission Shawnee and explained how the changing needs of the community and emergence of new services were redirecting their efforts.

“Though our agency has a rich foundation and legacy of serving the Shawnee community, we discovered new needs arising from those we were serving. The focal point of our delivery was no longer clearly reflected in our name,” Brooks said.

OBU students, including Carr, welcomed the class project which allowed her to use her creativity and artistic skills to develop ideas for both a new name and an updated logo design.

Carr, who will graduate in May 2023 with a Bachelor of Arts in graphic design, is honing her skills in Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign. She welcomed this opportunity to maximize her experience and serve the agency as a community client.

“I enjoyed the process so much. Towards the end of the project, the Board seemed to like my design which led to further collaboration and iterations of my work. I learned a great amount through this opportunity and am happy that I was able to serve them in this way,” she said.


She merits OBU’s smaller class size and specialized training for providing her an exceptional education. “The professors focus on me personally and offer one-on-one instruction. It feels very personable and satisfying. I have learned to appreciate and see art as a reflection of the beauty God creates,” she said.

Fuller remembers meeting Emma in high school when she came to OBU for a portfolio review.

“She demonstrated really strong work already,” he said. “During her time at OBU, her skills have continued to flourish. I was happy for her to get this kind of real-world experience with a client in the community.”

As a result of the collaborative efforts, Mission Shawnee completed the re-branding process and officially adopted the new name, “Uplift Mentoring,” with a unique logo to reinforce their purpose.

Brooks came to OBU as a student athlete running track and cross-country. He studied cultural anthropology in the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences. Brooks said he always had an interest in serving others and gained his first experience in non-profit work during his senior year at OBU working for the Spero Project. There, he offered case management support and assistance to refugees.

After graduation, Brooks volunteered for a small local foundation that provided him the opportunity to tutor children. In 2015, the foundation merged with Mission Shawnee and began incorporating tutoring and mentoring to their program. A byproduct was the formation of meaningful relationships that enhanced the lives and learning levels of students. As that component of the program grew in success, the emphasis of the organization made a shift toward the growth and development of school-age children through intentional mentorship.

Fuller describes Brooks as a visionary and effective leader.

“Ryan has a humble spirit about him, while also being assertive regarding the best ways to bring about meaningful change in our community,” Fuller said.

Today, Uplift Mentoring offers both in-school and after-school mentoring. All four Shawnee elementary schools and three additional area primary schools benefit from mentors going into the classroom once a week to offer well-planned and structured mentoring. The Uplift Mentoring after-school program provides services at their facility for at-risk students. A host of activities and learning opportunities are included in the program.

Currently more than 500 student athletes from OBU are actively mentoring in the program. These student athletes and university marching band members are known as “Bison Buddies”. They are the only group of volunteers participating in the in-school mentoring which according to Brooks make a tremendous impact on the lives of student. Each mentor spends about 40 minutes a week with their mentee.

Brooks commented, “With my experience as an athlete at OBU as well as thoughtful discussion from our Board and with input from OBU athletics, the creation of the Bison Buddies network began. The students meet with children in the class on a one-on-one basis to help with their development and a healthy growth mindset. This consistent relationship during the school year with the college students and elementary students is the heartbeat of Bison Buddies.”

The conception of the new name is based on the scripture from Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 which states, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.”

“The idea of two working together and the benefit that one can lift up and help the other is the very essence of our mission,” Brooks said.

The original Mission Shawnee began in 2006, by Dr. Robert Dawson, a WMU professor of missions at OBU. The agency was established to help provide services such as a food pantry, personal items and assistance with utility and rent. The current building was owned by Immanuel Baptist Church and served as their Family Life Center. They gifted the building to Mission Shawnee in 2006.

Brooks was named director of the agency in 2016 after serving as a volunteer.  As director, his efforts are spent in establishing healthy funding, staffing, community relations and further development of the program’s mission. Currently, his leadership has resulted in Uplift Mentoring receiving grant money from the Avedis Foundation toward remodeling of their facilities.

The chronicled story of Mission Shawnee and Uplift Mentoring has evident touchpoints of OBU seen throughout. Each of those demonstrate the value that OBU places on intentional partnerships and support of the community.