At the beginning of any academic year, you can visit most college campuses and find students walking around with maps in their hands and question marks on their faces.

A year ago, Shelby Stoddard, Utah Valley University freshman, was among them. However, her question mark quickly turned into an exclamation point as she discovered a way to overcome those obstacles.

She got involved.

Stoddard grew up in a small southeastern Idaho town with 900 residents. A tour of UVU while in high school convinced her the university was the key to her future. She had an immediate positive impression.

“Oh, my goodness — how am I not going to go to this place?’” she asked herself. “It has everything I wanted to be involved in.”

Among those things was the Women Lead program. It includes a class in which students learn about skills, abilities and current events. The course provides the information needed to become great leaders, according to Rachel Saunders, a student programming coordinator.

Stoddard said it was her favorite class. “I met so many really incredible women in that class,” she said. Their connection has continued. “When we see each other now, it is fun to keep those relationships that I gained with them.”

Some of the individuals in the Women Lead program participated in an alternative spring break in Seattle, where they served with Days for Girls. The nonprofit organization helps female students in developing countries remain in school to complete their education.

“We worked at their headquarters with the CEO getting the training to be able to go to places around the world and educate women on feminine hygiene, self-defense, and many other wonderful topics,” Stoddard said. “It was such an eye-opening experience.”

She is also engaged in the Center for Social Impact and is on the group’s Executive Service Council, where she provides leadership as the Youth Student Coordinator for the group. This year, she will oversee Lip Sync for Literacy, Sub 4 Santa, Provo Youth Mentoring, a food drive and other programs.

“I love that,” she said. “I get to work with people who are as passionate about service as I am. There are so many things on campus that are so fun. They help you find scholarships and career options.”

Stoddard has discovered a career option that is shaping her future.

“Through high school, I took a ton of medical classes and wanted to be a pediatrician,” she said. “I studied biology with an emphasis on premed. Then I had the opportunity to volunteer at a preschool for autistic children. I fell in love. As soon as I did that, I wanted to try that so much, and I decided to change my major.”

In the future, she would like to partner with a nonprofit — or create one of her own — that supports those on the autism spectrum.

“I think it would be really beneficial to the community,” she said.

She credits the Women’s Success Center and the Lead program for helping her find scholarships that have made it possible for her to gain an education without taking a paying job.

“Even with switching my majors and taking on so many credits, I actually don’t have to work through school so that I can be more involved with my classes,” she said. “It has taught me how to budget. When somebody else is being gracious enough to help you with your education, you are careful with that money. It makes me more grateful for everything that I have.”

Someday, Stoddard hopes to turn the tables and offer a hand up to someone else.

“It is definitely something I hope to be able to give back one day,” she said. “Anything helps. I am so grateful for anything, no matter what amount.”

In the meantime, she is working on her education. She is one of the first to say that schooling is more than classwork, however.

“Know that college is more than traditional education,” she said. “It can be personal connections, networking or simply life experiences. It is almost too good not to take up on. It is never too late to get involved. There is honestly something for everyone.”

Women like Stoddard are encouraged to take advantage of the Women’s Success Center. The center offers women the support and resources they need to complete their degree and gain the confidence, opportunity and knowledge that come with a diploma.

UVU is dedicated to providing higher education opportunities to all who seek them, especially to women. Further information is available at uvu.edu/wsc.