COLUMBIA – DeAndre West always wanted to be a professional athlete when he grew up.
So did TyJuan Robinson and DeMarcus McDaniel.
Like most of the children who hang out at the Boys and Girls Club in Columbia, their career fantasies were limited to music and sports.
Then Dream Outside the Box began to change their ideas.
Now DeAndre wants to be an entrepreneur, TyJuan wants to be an engineer or an accountant and DeMarcus is thinking about becoming a lawyer.
Dream Outside the Box doesn't reject common career choices that seem so appealing to lower-income or minority youth. The program introduces them to a wider world of career possibilities.
Kam Phillips, a junior majoring in social work at MU, started Dream Outside the Box when she was a freshman in 2009.
Phillips did everything from riding horses to skiing when she was growing up in Texas. She saw how having a variety of experiences as a child helped her and wanted to share that with the children.
"I came up with the vision for the program, and I thought it would be wrong not to go through with it," she said.
As a result of her leadership and community service, Phillips was one of the 60 college juniors to be named a Truman scholar this year. Phillips is only the 15th MU student to receive this national scholarship, which provides up to $30,000 for graduate study in public service fields.
Phillips is planning to use the scholarship to get her master's degree in public administration and nonprofit management and policy.
When she started Dream Outside The Box, most of the boys involved wanted to be rappers or football players. Most of the girls wanted to be singers or dancers. Phillips' dream was to make them see a world of options.
By partnering with student organizations on campus, she brought in speakers to share career information. The speakers introduced the children to new sports like lacrosse and archery and careers like engineering and fashion design.
“We’ve exposed the kids to great things, and we are making an impact,” Phillips said.
Participant Shamil Hamilton's career path was diverted when he got to play lacrosse with the MU team. Now he's considering playing it professionally.
Not all of the students had star-struck ambitions, however.
Fifth grader Serenity Washington wanted to be an elementary school teacher before the program, but she was not sure how she was going to get there.
Dream Outside The Box taught her to pay attention to her schoolwork if she wanted to reach her goals.
She said her favorite visitor was MU basketball player Laurence Bowers, who talked about how academics should be a priority over athletics.
“He said you should be obedient to your teacher and be careful about what you say,” Serenity said.
Even though she is still in elementary school, she hopes to go to MU. She is familiar with the campus, and Dream Outside The Box has helped introduce her to academic possibilities.
Breana Jones, the program's director of public relations, said Phillips made time to connect with each child while handling the pressures of being the executive director of the program.
She is inspiring, Jones said. When Phillips wanted a website, she made it happen, Jones said. When she wanted the children to have a graduation ceremony, it was accomplished.
"Anything that she wants to get done, she'll get done," she said.
Phillips said she has already seen the children's outlook improve. They have gained a sense of self-confidence, she said, and the ability to articulate what they want to do with their lives.
“We’ve expanded their horizons.”