Graduation at UW-Madison: Leadership & Excellence
Kingsley-Reigne Pissang has been involved in the UW-Madison PEOPLE Program since she was a middle school student at James C. Wright Middle School.
By Jonathan Gramling
Kingsley-Reigne Pissang just seems like a natural-born leader. With a warm smile, sparkling personality and smarts gained inside and outside the classroom, Pissang has been exercising her leadership skills from high school all the way through college.
All throughout, Pissang has had the support and guidance of the UW PEOPLE Program, which she has been engaged in since her middle school years. And that leadership began to come to the fore when she was elected Madison West High School’s first African American student president her senior year.
Through the support of PEOPLE during her collegiate career, Pissang seemed to create
or join community no matter what she did at UW-Madison, starting with her freshman year.
“I got my first extracurricular start with the Wisconsin Black Student Union where I was first the volunteer coordinator,” Pissang said. “In addition to that, I was also a member of the Black History Month Planning Committee for freshman year. I lived in the MLC, the Multicultural Learning Community, which definitely helped me get a solid grounding on campus. They really helped me get in touch with the Black community here at UW-Madison. I didn’t feel that type of isolation at UW-Madison because I had that community. During my freshman year, I also served as a tutor for the PEOPLE third grade program at Packer Townhomes.”
While staying involved with Wisconsin BSU, Pissang branched out her sophomore year. She joined the Epsilon Delta Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and declared her double major in journalism and Afro American studies. She also got engaged in research concerning the representation of people of color on campus in terms of plaques, building and room names and physical representation in order to make the UW-Madison campus welcoming to all students.
“We ended up going to Canada for the ICBME, which is the International Colloquium on Black Males in Education,” Pissang said. “We produced research on the names of monuments and buildings, kind of like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs about the representation on campus and ensure the recommendations are followed through by the institutions.”
Pissang didn’t slow down her junior year and began to take on a more leadership role.
“I became the president of the Wisconsin Black Student Union,” Pissang recalled. “I was also the president of my sorority and co-chair for the Black History Month Planning Committee during the 2018-2019 school year. I was also privileged to go to Ireland for the ICBME conference that year. I was also on the Vice-Chancellor’s Cabinet. I also worked at the PEOPLE Program as an office assistant. And I was also a housefellow at Sellery.”
It was probably Pissang’s call to leadership — and the COVID-19 pandemic — that led to Pissang having two senior years on campus. And one of the more important roles came about when UW-Madison released a homecoming video composed of individual student videos and none were of students of color even though some were submitted.
“I ended up founding SIC, the Student Inclusion Coalition, which was more of a protest and allyship group formed for students,” Pissang said. “I was the president of that until I graduated. We ended up implementing demands for the university, which resulted in over $150,000 going into Black and Brown communities at UW-Madison through the cultural heritage months as well as the development of the NPHC Plaza that just broke ground last month.”
While leadership seems like a natural place to be for Pissang, she emphasized that leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
“The people whom I was around didn’t make me, but I saw how involved they were and they kind of took me under their wing,” Pissang confided. “I saw the experiences that they had and the things they were able to do. And I was just in awe of that. I’ve had some fantastic mentors and created some great relationships on campus. And I can definitely say if I didn’t have that community of leaders who inspired me to be a leader — like the executive board of the Wisconsin Black Student Union — it would have been difficult. The BSU executive board was like family and they supported me in whatever I wanted to do. They made being involved look cool. They made it something that I wanted to do.”
And while it is important to have the desire and support, it is equally important to listen to the people whom you lead.
“It can be very easy to get attached to the organizations and the things that you are doing because at the end of the day, your name and your face are out there in terms of an organization,” Pissang observed. “But people see the organization. You and the organization are not synonymous. And people’s suggestions to better an organization are that. They are not targeting you. That was a big thing that I had to learn, listening to the suggestions of the organization on how it can get better. They aren’t attacking you.”
And it is also important to be flexible so that you can roll with the punches and what the environment around you is presenting you.
“My motto over these past five years has been, ‘Make It Shake,’”.Pissang said “A lot of times, things don’t go according to plan. And being able to work with what you have is by far one of the most important things that I’ve learned here at UW-Madison. When one door closes, you have to make something happen behind another one. You have to trust yourself and trust those around you is key. Trust, listening and adaptability have by far gotten me to where I am today.”
During her collegiate career, Pissang also studied abroad in Denmark, went to a leadership conference in Malaysia and had a fellowship for journalism in Berlin, Germany.
Perhaps it is Pissang’s continuous engagement home and abroad, often in a leadership position that led to her being named one of 14 Notable UW-Madison Graduates this spring, quite an honor.
Pissang will take a break from higher education although she plans to earn a master’s and beyond at some point. But for now, she will engage part of the U.S. through a marketing position, which applies to her marketing emphasis at the UW-Madison J School.
“I accepted a position to be a regional marketing representative for Oscar Mayer, which is a long name for I’m driving the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile,” Pissang said with a laugh. “I actually leave June 6th. I’m kind of freaking out about it. Essentially, we get assigned a region for six months. And then we handle all of the event planning, PR and marketing for that region while we are there. I will be going from city to city, state to state. I’m looking forward to it. They pay for our hotels. They pay for food. And on top of that, I get a nice salary. How can you turn down after a year of being inside traveling around the country?”
With her natural talent and learned abilities, it is only a matter of time before Kingsley-Reigne Pissang is engaging her leadership skills on the next level of her professional journey.