LU Moment: Breaking Glass Ceilings | S3 Ep. 12

 

Shelly Vitanza:
Welcome to the LU Moment. Thank you for listening. I’m Shelly Vitanza, the Director of Public Affairs at Lamar University, the pride of Southeast Texas. Each week, we showcase the great events, activities, programs, projects, and people at Lamar University.

This week at LU culminated a long-term plan to create an official front door at Highway 287-96 which is Cardinal Drive, a welcome center, LU’s first official front door and the first stop on campus for perspective students, family members, alumni, and other visitors opened. The new building is 6,334 square feet. It houses seven staff offices and a workroom for the student team, which we call the LU Crew. They lead the campus tours. The lobby includes a self-serve kiosk for guests wishing to enroll at LU and will equip rotating visits, highlighting various aspects of campus life. A 40-foot theatre capable of expanding to an additional 20 feet shows an introductory film highlighting all that LU has to offer to perspective students and campus guests.

The front of the building has a stunning stainless-steel tree, beautiful object of art with a bench and a giant LU lettering. During opening ceremonies at the building, Dr. Evans said, “the Welcome Center is the heart of the campus, tying together all of LU more than 300 acres.” Beautiful building, we hope people will come and see it and we’re going to welcome you to our campus’ official front door. Also, this week, Lamar University’s office of Undergraduate Research announced sixteen summer undergraduate research fellowships for summer 2021. Each research winner will receive university funding including a $2,000 stipend, a $1,000 in research support, free housing for ten weeks during the summer and $500 of travel support to help them go to conferences during the next university year. Of the fifteen winning projects, eleven represent STEM areas, science, technology, engineering, and math. Four represent humanities, art, social and behavioral sciences, education and human development, and business areas.

There’s actually sixteen awardees, but fifteen projects. The opportunity to participate in undergraduate research is not offered at every university. The universities that do, don’t have such a robust program, so undergraduate research is a real benefit at Lamar University to prepare students for real-world problem-solving. We’re excited for our students. In the coming weeks, a group of multi-disciplinary researchers from Lamar University will host the third annual Recovery and Resiliency summit.

The virtual event is April 9th, and it features speakers from various fields and welcomes all of southeast Texas to participate. Because it is virtual, anybody can participate and hear the research that’s gone on in the past. Things like blood mitigation is going to be discussed and what has been discovered and what is being implemented so I think a lot of southeast Texans would really benefit from attending the Recovery and Resiliency summit. The summit this year is themed recovering and growing as a community and it will focus on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and other disasters that are catastrophic. You can register and get more information at lamar.edu/resilience-recovery/summit. Check that out.

Alright, for the past several weeks, Lamar University has celebrated women in honor of women’s history month. As a wrap up the month of featuring inspiring women, a reception was held to recognize women who have a positive impact, not only on the community and the Lamar University campus, but in their surroundings and in their lives and to other women especially. Belashia Wallace was the featured speaker of the event and she was gracious enough to join us today. Welcome, Belashia, thank you.

Belashia Wallace:
Thank you for having me, Shelly.

Shelly Vitanza:
You know, Belashia is a certified mediator, legal trial consultant and principal, consultant, personal injury attorney of the Wallace Law Firm. You’re known in the legal profession for garnering millions in settlements and verdicts, but you’ve had an unexpected journey and I was so interested to hear that at the reception, because first of all, nobody would expect that, but secondly, few people talk about the unsavory side of their lives, but you just opened up and you were so authentic. Can you kind of tell us your path to your legal career, and why it was so… it was a little crooked wasn’t it?

Belashia Wallace:
It was, it was. I really had an unconventional path into law. I credit that to my experiences at Lamar University because I wasn’t the girl who grew up saying, “I want to be an attorney,” when I was a child. When I started at Lamar University, it was really because of the vibe and the great feeling where everyone was so welcoming from the very beginning, from day one. When I graduated with a degree in journalism, I had no idea what I wanted to do as far as a career was concerned. I was very involved in campus life at Lamar and one of the things that I did was, I won the Miss Black and Gold Scholarship pageant, and one of the judges was an attorney in Beaumont and because he saw me on the news leading a unity March in the racial divide on campus at Lamar. He contacted me after I graduated and said, “I need you to help me run my law office.” I said, “I have no interest law, I’ll do it as a favor just for a little bit,” only because I was substitute teaching, and then when I got there, I absolutely fell in love with the feel. It helped me to understand that all the experiences I had in the past as far as issues in school, behavioral issues, things even that would surprise others such as being suspended somehow paralleled for me to be able to help others with their problems and situations that they’ve been going through in life. Being an attorney was an excellent way for me to bridge all of my experiences, my desires, my passions into one field which was law.

Shelly Vitanza:
Sometimes we have plans, and I guess God has other plans. That was your call, and since that call, it seems like things have unfolded, I mean, you’ve never really went out to look for a job, but jobs have found you. Can you talk about that?

Belashia Wallace:
For sure, so similar to that situation when the attorney contacted me, a lot of times people feel as if they go out and try to reach out to all of these different people, but if you’re being your best self in every area of your life, trying to do things the right way, opportunities will come. What I found was that simply following after my passion is not necessarily a certain goal, meaning “I want this particular job,” something will come forward from that where then, people will reach out to me. One of the things I talked about during the event was even having trials and defeating my opponents who then offered me jobs, not because of anything I did to reach out to them, but because they saw my skills and then they saw that I was so generous to them even though they may have not reciprocated that in the beginning. So, when you are just being your best self, opportunities simply come and from there, the sky’s the limit. There’s no telling what will come when you are doing the right thing. That’s the way that glass ceilings can be broken and along the way, when you are simply just being your best self and taking advantage of opportunities as they come along.

Shelly Vitanza:
You know, I think that’s so important for young people to hear and I tell my kids that all the time, don’t base your behavior on someone else. If someone is ugly to you, still be you, still be kind, still be gracious, because that’s going to benefit you’ve given so many good examples of that and breaking the glass ceiling because you’ve put your best self out there. I want to back up just a little bit, Belashia, you touched on some behavioral issues you had in high school. I think sometimes, we see kids that are troubled, and we give up on them, but you are clearly someone who changed their life who turned things around. How did that happen? what inspired you? Was there something that happened that made you say, I’m not going to do that anymore, I’m going to get it together?

Belashia Wallace:
Honestly, it was really when I was preparing to enter into Lamar. Lamar was that transitional phase for me because, I used to get to a point where I was feeling during high school senior year when I was getting ready to go to college, that I had this reputation for being the one you do not mess with. One of the things I touched on in the event was that persona still exists and it surprises others because it’s like, “oh, you’re so sweet, you’re so nice, I can’t even imagine that” but the fight in me not a physical perspective, but that unwavering ability, it’s still there, but now it’s transitioning from the classroom to the courtroom. When I entered college, I told my self that I’m not going to be so focused on what I want people to forget about me from my past, but instead I need to focus on how I want to be remembered. From then on, it just took a different approach where it wasn’t necessarily a goal to try to do everything, but just to say, “hey, these opportunities are here, why can’t I do it?” Whereas in the past, it was just as if it was assumed, it would always be a negative result, but I’ve always had a passion to serve, even when I has issues in high school. I also realized that I was clearly a leader, it was just leading in a way that was going to be a positive change was kind of that transitional phase.

Shelly Vitanza:
You also talked about how other attorneys try to intimidate you from the beginning of a trial, and you don’t allow that to happen. That takes a lot of confidence. Can you provide some insight? Do you talk to yourself; do you build yourself up or is that just innate in you? Can you share some of your tips and tricks for not being intimidated?

Belashia Wallace:
On the inside, it’s almost laughable to me to be honest, just because I see myself, when I see an attorney like that, it’s like looking at my middle school self who tried to do that to other kids. It’s funny to me because it’s almost like, “okay, you’re doing what I used to do, ten, twenty years ago and it doesn’t faze me because I know what you’re doing, and I know how to overcome that.” Really, it’s just maintaining a level of professionalism regardless. That’s something that anyone will still be able to say about me presently. As a rare person in my field, on of the things that I talk about is statistics; over 1.3 million lawyers in America, only 1.7% are African American females, so it’s rare to see a black female attorney, let alone one in a courtroom, let alone one going to trial which is the ultimate level that any attorney can possibly get to in the realm of practice generally. Because it’s rare to see someone like that, then I’m younger than a lot of people that I go against, there’s that feeling of, “she doesn’t know much, or she won’t know what she’s doing. I can talk to her any way and she’ll just accept it.” When you meet people at their level and maintain their level of professionalism, generally what it results in is a lot of people coming back to apologize or coming back with job offers. It’s all about maintaining integrity and professionalism regardless of what you’re presented with from someone else.

Shelly Vitanza:
Yeah. You personify the best way of getting revenge is to be successful, right?

Belashia Wallace:
Right, exactly.

Shelly Vitanza:
We talked a lot about your career and what you do to be successful in life, but what do you do for fun?

Belashia Wallace:
Oh wow! I love spending time with my family. I met my college sweetheart at Lamar. I just credit so many things to Lamar, but I met my husband at Lamar. We have a beautiful three-year old son, so I love spending time with them, going out to play. Everything’s a little different now with the pandemic, but that’s number one. Outside of that, I’ve always enjoyed spoken word, doing poetry. That was some of the things I did at Lamar as well as far leading different organizations and then giving back when it comes to mentorship. One of the things we did yesterday as a surprise after the event was Woman to Woman is Lamar’s first women empowerment organization that I founded in 2007 and the Theta Beta Chapter of Alpha Ki Alpha Sorority Incorporated, they did a joint celebration yesterday for me after the event. I announced there that because Woman to Woman will be fifteen years old next year, we will have our fifteen-year anniversary that I’ll actually be donating our first inaugural scholarship on behalf of my firm to Woman to Woman to commemorate everything, excellence, that they’ve been doing over the past fifteen years to help those students as well. It’s just looking forward to a lot of giving back and just being connected with those who I love and the organizations that I love.

Shelly Vitanza:
Well, that’s wonderful. We’re there at Lamar University standing on the shoulders of those who came before us and you are definitely one of those who have put some foundational stones into the University so we can move forward. We thank you for your time, and for your leadership, and everything that you do in the community, and for Lamar University and thanks for joining us on the LU Moment.

Belashia Wallace:
Thank you so much.

Shelly Vitanza:
Alright. Let’s save the date, April 10th for the Gladys City Live where you can see Spindletop Gladys City as it was in the boom days. Plan to bring the entire family to interact with characters from the past as well as go shopping in many of the buildings. It’s located on the Lamar University campus, not that far from the new Welcome Center, so you can do both. We really appreciate you listening to the LU Moment. I’m Shelly Vitanza, the director of public affairs at Lamar University, the pride of Southeast Texas.