A photo of a man sitting at a table in front of bookcases.
Carlton Nivens, who graduated from VCU with a philosophy degree, has a full-time job at CodeVA. (Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Class of 2023: Carlton Nivens found a ‘Pathway’ to VCU, and he pays it forward with a commitment to mentoring

Philosophy graduate with a computer science minor has supported peers and youth through CodeVA and tribal engagement.

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At one point, Carlton Nivens didn’t see a four-year college in his future. Now the recent VCU graduate is helping pave the way for a new generation of students.

Nivens, a native of Arlington County, found his way to Virginia Commonwealth University through the Mellon Pathways to the Arts and Humanities Program. It facilitates a transfer path to VCU from Brightpoint or Reynolds community colleges in the Richmond area.

“I took part in their program at Reynolds Community College, and they made me a peer mentor to others who were interesting in transferring,” said Nivens, who transferred to VCU in 2021 and graduated this December with a philosophy degree.

“I have been peer-mentoring my entire time at VCU. It changed my perspective on life,” he said. “Before, I felt that something was missing in my life.”

Nivens has been serving future college hopefuls in other ways, too – including teaching computer science, coding, engineering and robotics to youths through his work at CodeVA, which promotes equitable computer science instruction across Virginia.

“I have to be helping someone else for the work to be meaningful to me,” he said. “I’ve worked with kids who are in school, out of school and who are home-schooled.”

Nivens, who minored in computer science, also has mentored through the Virginia Tribal Education Consortium, which supports academic excellence, cultural awareness and historical accuracy. 

“I worked in Charles City teaching coding and data science to Indigenous teens,” he said. “CodeVA took me aside and said, we want you for this. I helped write the curriculum and taught the class as well.”

Nivens expressed his gratitude to his VCU philosophy professors, who he said affirmed his choice of major and helped him further his passion for mentoring. His professors return the compliment.

“It has been an absolute delight to get to know Carlton both as a student and as a tutor in our department’s peer-tutoring program,” said Donald Smith, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “He is the ideal student and tutor: affable, collaborative, curious and dependable. But what makes Carlton stand out the most, in my mind, is his incredibly kind and generous spirit. I know the folks in VCU’s Pathways program are immensely proud of Carlton, and I am, too.”  

Now that he has graduated, Nivens is diving into a full-time position with CodeVA.

“It will be nice to sit and dig into what I am doing with CodeVA,” he said. “I’m giving it my full attention.”