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2014 Person of the Year: John M. Powell

John M. Powell’s man cave—his section of his room in the University Lofts—is indicative of his hectic life.

Situated under his bed is a desk with two computer monitors, a jar of peanut butter and multiple stacks of paper, including budgets for various organizations. An American flag hangs on the wall, and just under it on the right-hand side, a gun magazine sits on a storage ottoman. On the other side is a safe where he stores files for the numerous organizations with which he’s involved. Christmas lights frame the work space and a British flag serves as a section divider, sticking to the wooden bed frames by way of two magnets.

Powell participates in several clubs and organizations on campus and is a president of two of them.
Powell participates in several clubs and organizations on campus and is a president of two of them.

Powell said he has fallen asleep many nights at this desk while working since moving into the space his sophomore year during fall 2012.

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He said he currently dedicates about 35 hours a week to various organizations, a far cry from his freshman year at Georgia State.

“My freshman year I was not involved with anything. All I did was sit in my dorm room and study. At the end of freshman year I ended with like a 4.06 [GPA],” Powell said.

“At the beginning of my sophomore year I decided, ‘you know what they told me to get involved a long time ago at Incept, like get involved with the community, so I’m going to get involved in EVERYTHING!’ So I did that. And it was also because I just wanted to do something and helping give back to the community was a great way. And, at the time, I wanted to try and impress [my] then girlfriend.”

These days it’s hard to miss Powell on campus, literally and figuratively. Standing tall at 6 feet 7 inches, with a warm smile and a head full of curly hair, he’s often attending or organizing various meetings and events.

Powell’s list of organizations and activities is pretty lengthy: he’s president of the University Lofts; president of the astronomy club; a student justice with the Student Judiciary Board; an undergraduate representative for the Federalist Society out of the Law School; a member of the Honors College; a tutor to fellow political science majors; a volunteer at The Carter Center; an assistant teacher of a fencing class on campus on Tuesdays and a Vacation Bible School participant at Cross of Life Lutheran Church in Roswell, Ga.

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And that’s all in addition to taking 14-15 credit hours per semester, and dedicating another 35 hours a week to studying. Powell is a political science major and a biology minor.

He ended up at Georgia State after scholarships fell through, crushing his plans to attend school in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Powell said despite the fact that Georgia State was not his first choice, he has thoroughly enjoyed his time at the University thus far.

“I love it here. That is the understatement of the year,” he said. “This is the most diverse campus. I can be walking to class and hear several languages and I have no idea what they’re saying, and I have no problem with that. And I enjoy it because the market’s becoming globalized, whether we like it or not, so the more diversity that we’re [opened] up to is great.”

“Also, in political science classes there’s lots of discussions, so having a very wide array of views is very cool and interesting because you get to hear views you’ve never heard of before,” he continued.

In his free time, Powell teaches a fencing class each Tuesday.
In his free time, Powell teaches a fencing class each Tuesday.

Powell said his dream job involves Healthcare Law.

“My dream job is really vague, because what I’ve learned is as time progresses, you slowly get to narrow in on what you want to do,” he said.

As a kid, Powell idolized Errol Flynn’s portrayal of Robin Hood, because he made all of his decisions with the motto, “because it’s the right thing to do,” in mind.

Powell wanted to join the military, but then discovered fencing in high school and dreamed of representing the U.S. in The Olympics. He said he soon gave up on that dream after realizing only one fencer from the United States would be in the Olympics. That’s when he decided to go to college.

Powell said he believes Georgia State’s best kept secret is OrgSync, a website that includes the University’s student organizations.

“A lot of students don’t know what OrgSync is, and when they find OrgSync they’re like “oh my gosh, [there are] all of these clubs.’ And then through that, they can find any club they want.”

Powell said his job as a leader in most of the organizations he’s involved in, especially as President of the University Lofts and astronomy club, is mostly about ensuring that things run smoothly.

“The presidency—this is also for a lot of organizations—is organizing everything. It’s making sure that the officers are where they need to be. That the group has good morale. That everyone is doing what they need to do. And you give a general direction.”

As President of The Lofts, Powell helps come up with activities for the residents in Hall Council meetings. He said some events––like a recent karaoke night––are a success, but, in general, it’s hard to come up with activities for over 560 students in a building that houses athletes, upperclassman and families.

Powell said a major part of being a leader is learning not to take it personally when your ideas aren’t accepted.

“I will take no personal offense if one of my ideas gets shot down, because it happens. If you start taking things personally, then that leads down a very windy dark path and then feelings get hurt.”

Powell said he once suggested the student judiciary board dress as magistrates from the 1700s, finishing off the look with powdered wigs, and hold a mock trial in the courtyard to help introduce themselves to students. He said his peers immediately shot that idea down.

Powell said thick skin is important when dealing with people within an organization and students. In one extreme instance, he said a student yelled at him from across the street following a Student Judiciary Board hearing.

While he admits things can get pretty hectic, Powell said the key to managing a busy life is staying organized.

On the kitchen table in his room is the black calendar he keeps all of his activities, tests and assignments. Everything is color-coded. Black pen means he will definitely attend/complete. Blue pen means it’s a social event that he can attend if time permits. Pencil means tentative. These things will eventually be erased altogether or rewritten in black pen.

Powell said he makes sure to schedule time for himself to relax by surfing YouTube, playing guitar or exercising, too. He says doing yoga, meditating and journaling regularly is also very important to him.

While he admitted his strict schedule means there is little time for messing around, Powell said he is sure to listen to his body and rest when necessary.

“It’s a lot of willpower. There’s nights where I’m just like, ‘I’m burned out, I’m just going to do nothing. I’m just going to work out or practice some guitar or something.’”

Powell said he got his discipline from his parents. His family moved from northern Washington to Roswell, Ga. when he was nine years old. He said growing up in a less fortunate financial situation with hard-working parents attributed to the person he is today, a financially savvy guy who can cook, sew and knows a thing or two about plumbing and electrical work.

In addition to participating in organizations and maintaining a 3.7 GPA, Powell also volunteers at The Carter Center once a week for about 4-5 hours, helping with finances.

He has met former President Jimmy Carter several times, and one of the most important things he has learned from him is to “lead with what is right.”

As his junior year is coming to an end, Powell is looking ahead. He said he wants to intern, become more politically active and be more social during his senior year.

Additionally, he said he hopes to see more underclassman get involved with various organizations next year.

“For club organizations and everything, I want to see a new upcoming class that will be able to take the reigns of the organizations and be able to lead them effectively and efficiently; that way these organizations will be able to continue to live on throughout the times at Georgia State.”

 

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