Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City

Upward Bound Alum Turns Lessons Learned into Positive Lifestyle

It only takes a few minutes of talking with De’Shaun Thornton to know he is on the right path in life. The OSU-Oklahoma City Upward Bound lead counselor and first generation college graduate was once a student in the very program he works for today. He is currently on track to receive his doctorate in counseling psychology.

 

Growing up, Thornton admits he was inspired by Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter and aspired to become a zoologist. Shortly into his freshman year at St. Gregory’s University, he discovered he didn’t like science so he gave business a try. Business didn’t resonate with him either.

 

It wasn’t until he was sitting in a sociology class when he realized that this was the program for him. He woke up in the morning looking forward to attending class. Thornton has always had an interest in talking to people, so he decided to focus on his strengths.

 

After receiving his bachelor’s in sociology and psychology from St. Gregory’s, he pursued his master’s in counseling from Langston-Oklahoma City. Soon the 25-year-old will begin doctorate work at Oklahoma State University focusing on counseling psychology.

 

Rather than letting his achievements swell his ego, Thornton attributes his life victories to the people in his life. “Up to this point, being successful has been as easy as building positive relationships,” he explains.

 

Since 2009, Thornton has served as lead counselor in the Upward Bound program. Upward Bound is a federally-funded TRIO program that aims to assist high school students in achieving a college education.

 

“It is rewarding to see both sides of the program,” Thornton says. “The experience feels a lot more valuable because I was a student in the exact same program I work for now.”

 

As an Upward Bound student, Thornton discovered activities and college information that wouldn’t have been available to him otherwise. He says his mom enjoyed watching him flourish in his younger years.

 

“In high school I didn’t make bad grades because I didn’t want to disappoint my mom,” he said. “She has a lot of influence in what I do.”

 

Thornton hopes that Washington, D.C. sees the value in programs such as Upward Bound. “They need to continue funding these programs so more students from backgrounds like mine can accomplish a college degree and be successful when they graduate,” he said.

 

Looking to his future, Thornton aims to open his own counseling practice in Oklahoma City. He enjoys working with a wide range of ages – from 5 to 35 – and wants to focus on substance abuse, family/marriage counseling, group counseling, while also having a youth outreach program and staying active in the community.

 

In addition to pursuing an education and working full time, he also co-owns a nonprofit organization called DCD Outreach that focuses on sickle cell research. Thornton’s cousin, Colby Smith, serves as co-owner and inspiration for the nonprofit as Smith suffers from sickle cell deficiency. Since the nonprofit’s founding in 2010, the group’s fundraising events have raised more than $1,200 for the Oklahoma Sickle Cell Foundation.

 

“A lot of people are unaware of what resources they have because they don’t know what is available to them,” Thornton says. “To me, getting involved is self-empowering.”

 

When he’s not busy, Thornton enjoys traveling and keeping the zoologist within him alive by owning a pet ball python named Jake the Snake.

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De’Shaun Thornton