One would not expect the bearer of a bachelor’s degree in communications and an MBA, who is also a current graduate student in the negotiation, conflict resolution, and peace building program, an officer trainee in the ROTC program and reservist in the U.S. Army to have come from a background of drug-addicted parents and poverty in Compton. However, LaTangia Oliver has accomplished just that. In addition, she is also the California State University, Dominguez Hills awardee of the William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement. The annual awards are bestowed upon one student from each of the 23 CSU campuses for demonstrating academic excellence and community involvement while overcoming unusual personal obstacles. Oliver and the other awardees were honored at a ceremony and reception at the CSU Office of the Chancellor on Sept. 20.
Oliver says that it feels “amazing” to be the CSU Dominguez Hills winner of the Hearst/CSU Trustees’ Award.
“I am humbled and I appreciate this experience greatly,” she says. “This scholarship proves to be a motivational tool that will encourage my drive toward my dreams.”
Raised with her sister by their great-aunt, Phyllis Lane–a single mother with children of her own–Oliver grew up in Compton exposed to a life of violence and lack of educational resources. Her parents, who struggled with drug addiction, would often appear at school and create scenes that embarrassed Oliver and her sister. However, her great-aunt’s influence inspired her to look forward to a better life.
“Today I have no anger toward my parents,” says Oliver. “I accept and love them, sober or not sober. My great-aunt raised and encouraged me to respect others, work hard for the things I plan to achieve, and never give up on myself. The core values that were instilled in me allowed me to overcome these emotional and physical tribulations.”
Upon entering Dominguez High School, Oliver worked to be the best student and athlete possible, and graduated with honors in 2002. She excelled at CSU Fullerton as a member of the Guardian Scholars, a program that supports at-risk youth with a four-year scholarship. In her undergraduate years, Oliver led the CSUF women’s track team as captain for two years and served as president of the campus’s Zeta Phi Beta, Inc. chapter. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in journalism in 2006. A year later, she enrolled in an online program at University of Phoenix and graduated from its MBA program in 2009. Most students would have stopped there and began looking for work. Not so for Oliver, who tirelessly seeks to challenge herself. She enlisted in the Army National Guard in 2008.
“I joined the military because I was longing for something that I had not achieved in my undergraduate or graduate experience,” she says, “which was a career I could dedicate myself to, and an opportunity to contribute to the growth of society.”
Upon joining the National Guard, Oliver was selected to lead her class of 201 as student first sergeant, the highest position within student leadership. She says that her first experiences with the importance of negotiation occurred here.
“Attempting to lead individuals who do not know or accept you was an obstacle I had to overcome,” she recalls. “The many issues I had to resolve and the environment in which I had to lead were not compatible with my usual leadership tactics and I was failing. I had to change my personal outlook and adapt to my new role in order to succeed. I began to monitor my temper and allow soldiers to release their frustration, so that I could communicate the information needed for our group to be successful. After overcoming these obstacles I understood the significance of patience and communication. My ability to lead had been strengthened.”
Oliver is currently among the top students in the NCRP program at CSU Dominguez Hills, maintaining a 3.85 GPA. She works as a human resource specialist for the National Guard and is also employed by the University Parking Department as a booth attendant. In addition, Oliver gives back to her alma mater by continuing to mentor Guardian Scholars and doing volunteer work with Zeta Phi Beta at CSU Fullerton, as well as volunteering for the Salvation Army in Compton. This summer, Oliver traveled to Rimini, Italy, where she studied negotiations as a participant in the National Conflict Resolution Center’s 5th annual Summer Institute.
Looking forward to law school and ultimately becoming a judge advocate general (JAG) for the Army, Oliver says that the William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement is instrumental in propelling her toward her long-term career goals. The first college student and graduate in her family, Oliver says that her education and life experiences have given her a strong work ethic and a high sense of self-worth. When asked what drives her, she replies, “Fear and success.”
“For most of my life, fear has driven me,” says Oliver. “I never wanted to be like my parents; I always wanted to be better. Now, even when I’m tired and completing tasks I don’t feel like doing, success drives me because I want to complete what I’ve set out for myself to do. I’m driven by success and by asking myself, ‘I’ve accomplished a few things in my life, what more can I do? How can I be on top?’”