Chantal Cotton on willpower, opportunities, and belief

Today’s interview is thanks to RealAcader Justin Yiu who had also contributed a very interesting interview with his Professor John Rubedeau, one of our first interviews.. It’s over to Justin now.

Chantal R. Cotton was my resident advisor during my first year at the University of Michigan (In universities in the United States, it is common to have a senior student to be a counsellor to the students living in the dormitories. They build the communities within the dorm through the organization of events, and maintain the safety and affability of these communities). She was very easy going, upbeat, and optimistic. She also took the time to connect with each resident on a personal level. Even with her ridiculously busy schedule, her door was always open to residents.

image[2]Even when residents were chatting at 3 AM at night, she would drop by to join in on our conversations. Chantal was my inspiration to become a resident advisor, and her leadership as a resident advisor definitely influenced how I approached the job

About Chantal

Chantal was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. She attended the University of Michigan and earned a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science, a Master of Public Policy degree, and a Master of Urban Planning Degree. She has worked for the City of Ypsilanti, Michigan and is currently the Assistant to the City Manager for the City of College Park, Maryland. She plans to be a City Manager in the coming years.


Interview transcript

1. What drives/inspires you?

I’ve always dreamed of making life better for everyone around me.

This was especially important since my hometown of Flint had such a bad reputation for unemployment and crime. I saw a beautiful place, full of potential when I looked at Flint. I saw a community that cared about each other and really wanted to see everyone excel. But that isn’t what I heard from other people outside of the community. I always dreamed of making communities like Flint better places to live for everyone there. I guess that is what drives me, knowing that there are still people who need access to better opportunities.

2. What has/have been the most defining moments in your life so far?

I guess I’ve done a couple really cool things in life, but I think my most defining moments are always the ones that I spend with my family and close friends. When I’m with them, I always learn something about myself and why I care about the things I care about. And those moments mean the most to me.

3. What advice would you have for future leaders?

Take a moment by yourself and think about what really matters to you.

Then find a way to build that into your everyday life and the work you do.

Also, look at every situation and think about how you can excel no matter what. If you think the world is out to get you and make you fail, then you’re right. If you think that you can be confident and excel regardless of how the world treats you, then you are also right.

There’s a famous quote that I love and agree with wholeheartedly -

“If you think you can, you’re right. If you think you can’t, you’re also right.”


One of the big improvements you will see on RealAcad Mondays is the presence of a video on every interview. We’re hoping to have that happen over the next couple of weeks! I realize it makes a huge difference, especially when you think of an inspiring interview like this one where every word has been thought through.

Thank you, Chantal and Justin. I enjoyed every line and best wishes to you, Chantal to make a dent in this world! I’m sure you will.

Real Leaders Team