Student crowns achievements with service, on campus and in children’s lives

Rhonda Bates is one busy student. She’s a resident assistant in Pollock Halls, president of Student Minority Advisory and Recruitment Team and an advocate for child sexual abuse intervention. More than 107,000 football fans and a screaming student section might know her best, though, as the 2013 Penn State Homecoming Queen.

Throughout her Penn State career, Bates has been involved in numerous organizations, including the Penn State Student Black Caucus, the 2014 Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Executive Committee, a peer mentoring program called Penn State BLUEprint and the Human Development and Family Studies Undergraduate Student Organization, in addition to her duties as a residence assistant and as a student organization president.

As the fourth African-American woman to hold the title of Penn State’s Homecoming Queen, Bates says it means more than having a crown, sash and title.

Rhonda Bates with fellow R.A.s

Rhonda Bates, center, meets with fellow residence assistants and friends LeShaie Daniel and Karen Garay outside Ritner Hall on Penn State's University Park campus during an unseasonably warm fall afternoon.

Image: Patrick Mansell

SMART decision

In her role as Student Minority Advisory and Recruitment Team (SMART) president, Bates oversees the executive board, facilitates project development and provides morale for the general membership, known as “smarties.”

When she's not giving SMART tours on campus for prospective students, Bates coordinates SMART’s Spend a Fall Day and Achievers Weekend, two multi-day opportunities for prospective students to get a real look at “what it means to be a Penn Stater,” Bates said. Students fly in from all corners of the United States to interact with SMART members.

It’s especially rewarding when current students tell Bates that they made their decision to come to Penn State because of their positive experience with SMART.

“I love SMART. They’re awesome,” Bates said.

“There are people making a difference at Penn State who don’t have the big titles. I’m not a part of THON. I’m not a part of Panhellenic Council. I’m not a part of student government. But I’m here, and I’m giving a contribution to the community in some way. I’m representing the diversity here at Penn State.” 

— Rhonda Bates, senior, human development and family studies

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Throughout her busy weekly schedule, Rhonda Bates' priority remains setting aside enough time to study and complete class-related projects.

Image: Patrick Mansell

Though she is very busy, Bates does not seem to mind.

“I’m very passionate about giving back to the Penn State community,” she said. “This is my contribution to the University.”

A surprise honor

Somewhere in between her activities this fall, she found herself in the HUB being surprised with a bouquet of balloons and learning that she was a candidate for Homecoming Queen. Throughout the weeks leading up to Homecoming, Bates, a senior majoring in human development and family studies, enjoyed meeting fellow students on the court and attending events throughout the week of Homecoming leading up to Saturday’s football game.

When it came time to stand on the field in Beaver Stadium, nothing could prepare her for the result.

“It took me like an hour to process the fact that I won after they announced it on the field,” Bates said. “I’m like, ‘Is this real? Is this happening?’ ”

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Rhonda Bates is Penn State's 2013 Homecoming Queen.

Image: Patrick Mansell

It was so surreal, in fact, that Bates’ friend had to keep telling her she won.

“I couldn't wrap my mind around it at the time, and people are saying, ‘Congrats,’ and I’m thinking, ‘What am I saying thank you for?’ And then I look down and see my sashes,” she said.

As the fourth African-American woman to hold the title of Penn State’s Homecoming Queen, Bates says it means more than having a crown, sash and title.

“It was so humbling. When I look at [my sashes and crown, I realize] I’m influencing more people than I know,” Bates said, explaining that she doesn’t know many of the people who voted for her.

“There are people making a difference at Penn State who don’t have the big titles. I’m not a part of THON. I’m not a part of Panhellenic Council. I’m not a part of student government,” Bates said. “But I’m here, and I’m giving a contribution to the community in some way. I’m representing the diversity here at Penn State.”

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Penn State's 2013 Homecoming Queen Rhonda Bates and Homecoming King John Satira were honored at halftime of the Michigan game at Beaver Stadium on Oct. 12.

Image: Patrick Mansell

Serving others after college

Though Bates has made the most of her time at Penn State, she is looking to the future. Bates found her calling during an unthinkable family time. She said her cousin was sexually assaulted, and Bates was the only person she felt comfortable talking to about the incident.

“It was my epiphany,” Bates said. “This is what I was supposed to do in life.”

Since then, she has worked at a summer camp for at-risk children, affirming her passion for helping people.

“I’ve seen them change from this happy child to this child that has taken on so much responsibility in life, and they’re only kids,” Bates said.

During this past summer, Bates interned at the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, an organization dedicated to providing justice and healing for children who have been sexually abused.

“It was the best experience ever working with these kids who were allegedly sexually abused, and I’m just like, ‘This could be prevented,’ ” Bates said.

That experience was the first professional step on the road to her ultimate goal: to become an advocate for children of sexual abuse or extreme maltreatment and to create an intervention and prevention program to educate inner-city families about sexual abuse. 

The next step, however, is to take a year off from school to search for a master’s degree program that fits Bates’ personal and professional needs. Because she wants to develop her own program, Bates wants to find a university that will support her vision so that she can conduct her own research to benefit her intervention program.

“That’s always been my drive: to help people through the negative in their life and take it and make them stronger and move forward,” Bates said.

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Last Updated November 27, 2013