For Nathaniel Nevels, creating his own music has been a sanctuary from his studies, a backdrop to his relaxation, and the salve to soothe his grief.
During this academic year, both Nevels’ father and uncle passed away. Losing the men who were most important in his life, he fell into his music like a warm, comforting hug, producing a euphoric blend of synthesized sounds with bass lines.
“Music is an escape for me,” he said. “On top of that, it’s very healing.”
To have such a release is one reason he thinks he was able to thrive through the last five years as an undergraduate, as it balanced his busy schedule with an enjoyable outlet—one he knows he will keep close as he graduates this month. On campus, the business administration and business information systems double major has built a reputation as a leader, mentor, and standout student and employee. Off campus, Nevels flexes his creative muscles with photography, modeling, and, of course, music.
“Ultimately, I’d like my creative spark to take over so that it allows me to tackle as many artistic things in my life as possible,” he said.
Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, Nevels possessed an inner drive to pursue a college education and, while he was in high school, he sought out organizations that provided opportunities to support that dream. From Kayne Scholars (a scholarship program that helps advance the potential of first-generation college students to graduate from either a CSU or UC institution) to the University of Southern California’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative, which supports over 1,000 children in college access and early literacy programs annually, Nevels listened, learned, and leveraged his strengths to forge ahead.
Additionally, he was a committed high school mentee, voraciously absorbing knowledge from his mentors in one-on-one environments. And as a college student he continued learning about crafting, editing, and submitting his résumé and cover letter, while also honing his interview skills.
“The mentorship from these programs has enabled me to receive some of the greatest lessons I have ever received,” he said. “I’ve had the ability to learn from well-accomplished professionals who have a wide range of experience in every industry you can name.”
Nevels has also prioritized giving back as a mentor himself. Every summer since entering college, he has returned to the Los Angeles area to speak to middle and high school students, dispersing friendly advice and encouragement. He has also been a mentor for the EXP Young Fellows Program, an organization that connects high school-age boys of color in the East Los Angeles area to mentors who represent their own experiences, communities, and backgrounds.
“I saw younger versions of me in those kids, the mindset and approach of not knowing that there is life outside of where you grow up as a child,” he said. “Since it was a mentorship program specifically focused on males, I spoke to the students about opening up their masculinity to new perspectives in life, such as honesty with emotions. As men, we are conflicted about releasing our pains, but learning how to balance vulnerability and grit has allowed me to approach life in a much more thoughtful process.”
Jennifer Duggan, senior coordinator for advising and student services in the College of Business, met Nevels the summer before his freshman year through the Educational Opportunity Program Summer Bridge Program. She noticed early on his innate ability to connect with others.
“He was somebody that was really vulnerable, willing to share his story, and rose to the top of leadership,” Duggan said.
Impressed with his earnestness, honesty, and ability to connect with fellow students, Duggan offered Nevels a job in the advising and student services office. There, he was in his element, greeting students arriving for advising appointments and effortlessly striking up conversations with them as they waited.
Nevels continued to take advantage of opportunities to craft connection, including speaking on the College of Business’ First-Generation Luncheon panel the last two years and offering guidance and support to the other College of Business students.
“It is this skill set that sets him apart from other employees, as it seems to come naturally and from a place of genuine concern and compassion,” said Christine Ponce, the administrative support coordinator for Business Student Advising and Services. “His ability to connect with strangers and inspire them is nothing short of stunning.”
Nevels’ strength and perseverance were recently tested when his father passed away in the fall. Two days later, he was informed that the College of Business faculty and staff had come together to purchase a flight to return to Los Angeles to be with his family.
“I will always thank them for that,” he said. “After my father passed away, I sat there crying at work, just trying to push through, and they said, ‘Nate, if you need to take time off, we get it.’”
Thinking about his main role model in life and struggling to maintain his focus in his classes and at work, he tried his best to push through. But within months of his father’s death, Nevels’ uncle, who was also his godfather, also passed away. Through these losses, he has become even more committed to earning his college degrees, while continuing to mentor and experience what he can in their honor.
“I always say they’re on my shoulders and that I’m going to experience things that they couldn’t,” he said. “For me, it’s extra motivation. It used to be sorrow, but I hold on to the good memories. They’re still here, they’re just not here physically.”
One honor Nevels is grateful for as a student is being named the College of Business Commencement Speaker. Though it took him some time to process the recognition, he is ready to take the stage before his fellow graduates and share his perspective about leaning into discomfort.
He’s come a long way, he admits, from arriving at Chico State as a 17-year-old with no bank account, no California ID, and no friends. And yet, this month he’s earning his degree with distinction.
“Who you are does not depend on what others think of you, and oftentimes it is not about what we think of ourselves due to our insecurities, life is about how you, how we, react to discomfort,” he said.
Nevels now sees his career opportunities as expansive as his creativity can take him. He is considering working in the business industry for a while, or maybe marrying his talent for visuals with his musical acumen. He ultimately envisions a career in creating movie scores.
No matter what he pursues, though, he’d like to continue impacting the trajectories of those he mentors—and to do it his unique way.
“As a mentor, I try to inspire others to say, ‘I can be myself, I can do those things—all I have to do is take a step forward and try,’” he said.