A helping hand

Rianna Ellis values helping others. After receiving support as a freshman, the first-generation college student is finding a multitude of ways to give back to her fellow students.

rianna ellis headshot

April 5, 2023
Contact: Deidra Ashley, ashleyde@missouri.edu

As a high schooler in Raytown, Missouri, it wasn’t unusual to find Rianna Ellis packing sack lunches for students in her school district. You could also often catch her coordinating blood drives and volunteering at the local food pantry.

Now at the University of Missouri, the sophomore information technology and linguistics dual major continues to serve her community and collegiate peers.

Discovering her calling

Like many first-generation college students, the transition from high school to higher education was a challenge for Ellis.

“There were a lot of things I didn’t understand about college since my parents hadn’t had that experience,” she said. “At first, it was difficult to adjust and try to balance everything. However, I found a lot of resources offered by Mizzou that helped me figure it all out.”

At Mizzou, Ellis found resources and people to help her navigate — starting with choosing a major. Ellis took the course SSC 1150 Discover through the Discovery Center and explored potential majors.

As part of her coursework, Ellis interviewed professionals about their jobs. One of those was an information technology (IT) pro who showcased a side of the field Ellis had never considered.

“He said one of his favorite parts about IT is that you get to help people by solving their problems,” Ellis said. “I love helping people, and the service aspect of IT really interested me.”

Leaders at the Discovery Center said they love to see lightbulb moments like Ellis’ happen.

“When it clicks for students and they find a major that meets their skills, interests and abilities, it’s rewarding for not only them, but also for us as instructors of the class,” said Alison Lee, a senior academic advisor at the Discovery Center and course developer for the discover class.

Working for others

With a major centered around helping others, Ellis set out to pursue her degree. But she wasn’t just thinking about herself.

To make sure her fellow Tigers had as many resources as possible, Ellis became a peer learning assistant (PLA). As a PLA, Ellis provided support to students and helped plan course activities for a freshman interest group seminar class.  

“Rianna was amazing to work with,” said Ruth Crozier, director of advising in the College of Arts and Science and one of Ellis’ mentors in the program. “She was organized, responsible, paid attention to how individual students were participating in the class and had great feedback on how the class was structured.”

As a sophomore, she became an academic senator for the Missouri Students Association so she could represent and advocate for her peers in the College of Engineering. In this role, Ellis and her peers vote to allocate money to students for things like pursuing projects and attending conferences.

“It feels rewarding to be able to help provide these opportunities to my peers,” Ellis said. “It’s actually making a difference on campus.”

And finally, one of Ellis’ most memorable roles began last summer when she became a Summer Welcome leader. “Interacting with all the new students and helping them is one of my favorite roles I’ve had at Mizzou,” Ellis said. “It’s been so cool to meet a bunch of different students and help them feel comfortable on campus. When I was a freshman, my resident advisor helped me navigate campus, so it’s fulfilling to now be able to do that for others.”

Toward the future

Ellis has already accomplished a lot in her first few years at Mizzou. Somewhere between freshman and sophomore year, she added a second major, linguistics, and a minor, Spanish. She said she hopes to one day use those to tutor Spanish in an afterschool program.

Despite arriving at Mizzou with no experience and a sea of questions, Ellis continues to find resources and pass them on to the next generation of Tigers.

“With all the resources offered at Mizzou, I’ve really been able to discover my passions and develop a plan for my future. I’m so proud to be a Tiger and have such a wonderful support system here.”

Story written by Audrey Brown

Subscribe to

Show Me Mizzou

Stay up-to-date with the latest news by subscribing to the Show Me Mizzou newsletter.