Think like an entrepreneur, act like a freshman

Southern Illinois University



Think like an entrepreneur, act like a freshman

May 06, 2016, Katja Sonkeng


“Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth,” reads the card that Elijah Jeremiah “LJ” Barber always carries in his wallet.

Driven by this proverb, the freshman with the sharp suits quickly has evolved into a shining star in the SIU College of Business. Whether it’s officiating intramural basketball games in the Student Recreation Center, selling cupcakes on behalf of the registered student organization Ascend to fellow business students in the entrance of Rehn Hall or networking with alumni as part of the College of Business mentor program, the versatile finance major from White Hall, Illinois, wasted no time getting immersed in the culture of Carbondale and the SIU campus.

With his first year as a Saluki winding down, Barber recounted the highs and lows of college life, discussed benefits and challenges of being a first-generation student, and revealed his reasons for his distinct fashion style.

He also revealed which superpower he would like to possess.

“Flying would be great,” Barber said. “But, as a slow reader, mine would be honestly to read fast and comprehend everything I am reading.”

Barber said he usually tries to read one book per week, and he usually can be found in Rehn Hall or Morris Library with a book in his hand. Other times, though, one can catch him networking with individuals.

“I like to communicate with people,” Barber said. “If I see someone is sitting by himself or herself, I’ll gladly sit down right next to them.”

That’s just one of the many pieces of practical advice he took away from the talks he had with the former director of minority affairs, Mike Haywood, who retired in December.

“Mr. Haywood told me once, ‘Your network is your net worth,’ ” Barber said. “The more people you know, the more connections you have.”

It was one of those inspirational conversations with Haywood that led to a change of heart for Barber, who originally planned to study at Illinois State University.

“One of my friends asked me for a ride to SIU to check it out, so we came down here in January when the campus was all snow-covered,” Barber recalled. “As soon as we got out of the car and started walking, taking in the view and the atmosphere of the campus, I fell in love right away.”

But it wasn’t until he walked into Rehn Hall, home to the College of Business, that he decided to become a Saluki.

“I literally ran into Mr. Haywood and had a 15-minute conversation that kind of sealed the deal for me and made me come to SIU,” Barber said.

Fast-forward to this April, and the freshman said he hasn’t regretted his decision, despite having faced a few challenges that also confront other incoming college students.

“I guess one of the biggest problems I have is trying to stay focused,” Barber said. “In my first semester, I was in 13 organizations and took 18 credit hours.”

This spring, Barber said he cut his course load back to five classes and four organizations, primarily to free up time to attend conferences and listen to people speak.

As a first-generation student, he also acknowledged a lack of discipline as another difficulty he encountered.

“You have to remind yourself to go to class, do your homework assignments and whatever else is required for each class,” Barber said.

In hindsight, Barber said he considers his struggles with having to learn how to efficiently manage his time as one of the perks of being a first-generation student.

“Of course, if both of your parents have been to college, you have more of an advantage because you know what to expect,” Barber said. “But I personally like to explore new places for myself and make my own experiences, so I can incorporate it better into my life story and take pride for having it done all by myself.”

The latter, in particular, is Barber’s driving force: the desire to stand out from the rest of the crowd.

It also helps explain his fancy attire.

“During my freshman year in high school, my basketball coach told me to dress varsity for him and lent me a shirt and tie,” Barber explained. “It stuck with me and made me feel good. I look for ways to separate myself from other people.”

With his consistently positive attitude, the freshman finance major has taken the College of Business by storm.

With summer looming, Barber’s next goal is an internship with Northwestern Mutual while working part time with mentors to learn more about investments and the language of money. His career goal is to become an entrepreneur and an investor, and to own several businesses for a good cause.

“The whole idea of making money is to make a difference and to give back,” he said.

The College of Business looks forward to being part of Barber’s journey to success. Keep up the hard work, LJ!