Spring 2017 Commencement Stories

Committed to Completion

Tomeka DixonIt has taken a great deal of effort and dedication to get Tomeka Dixon to this point in her life. But on May 13, 2017, she will be part of the first class of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University Aggies to receive a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology.

Turning 40 years old in June, barley one month after she receives her degree, Dixon is categorized as a non-traditional student. But she isn't intimidated by that classification. She fully embraces it as a badge of honor.

"It was very hard raising a family and going to school, but I got through it," said Dixon of her path toward graduation. "I had already been to school for so long and had convinced myself that I was tired of it and that my [associates] degree was all I needed. But my mentor convinced me I could do more, and that's what pushed me to go further."

While working on her degree, obstacles were more than abundant. Full-time work and family life were challenging enough, but a diagnosis of a serious medical issue and subsequent disability put many of her aspirations in jeopardy.

But just as she has always done, Dixon persevered. Not only that, she discovered more about her passion for information technology.

"Information technology is so broad. You can do basically anything," Dixon said. "When I first started, it was just about fixing computers, but as I continued in school I became interested in network security and project management."

Dixon's advanced training will be beneficial in her efforts to obtain an information technology position, should she choose to go that route, but she also has her sights set on growing her entrepreneurial endeavors.

"I have a small company fixing computers. I've had Dixon Solutions for a few years now. I'm working on getting more certifications, which is why I'm also considering more vocational programs to gain more knowledge and expertise in order to grow the business," she said.

Dixon has always been committed to her family, despite the demands of academics, and the rewards have been tremendous. Following in her footsteps, her son has been accepted at N.C. A&T for the fall semester.

It may have taken some time, but through all the ups and downs and twists and turns, she made it.  "Sometimes you have to make some curves before you get to the straightway of the finish line," she said.


Finding Solutions in the Numbers

Jamaal WashburnThroughout high school, Jamaal Washburn worked at a fast food restaurant. At his age, it was perfect. But by his sophomore year at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, his mindset changed and, though he was grateful for the job, it no longer satisfied the desire he had for advanced stimulation.

So he put in the effort and did something about it.

"I used to work at Popeyes at home. When I went back after being in college and experiencing that life, I looked at that job differently. I knew I wasn't going back after my freshman year," said Washburn, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina. "When I went back to school after summer break, I went to the career fair, workshops, got my resume reviewed and did everything I could to make sure when the opportunity came I would be ready."

Not only was Washburn ready, he received multiple internship offers from the likes of John Deere, Dow Chemical and Cargill. An accounting major, he chose Dow, developing a professional relationship with the company that would afford him the opportunity to work in cost accounting, auditing and business and finance.>

It also solidified an offer he accepted to work for Dow's corporate headquarters in Midland, Michigan, post-graduation.

"A major part of my decision to take the offer from Dow was because of two of their recruiters. I will never forget them," he said. "They are my mentors to this day. I could tell they cared about my development as a man and as a professional. I figured they were a good reflection of what the company would be like."

For Washburn, his collegiate career has been about proactivity and service. In addition to his internships, he secured a position working for the N.C. A&T Real Estate Foundation, Inc. accounting department through sheer determination. When he found no positions available, he utilized every resource until doors were opened.

A member of several campus accounting organizations and honor societies as well as the National Association of Black Accountants, Washburn has extensively increased his knowledge of accounting and the accounting profession, certain that an MBA will be his next educational step.

"I understand the importance some people place on becoming a Certified Public Accountant, but I'm not driven in that direction," said Washburn. "I see it as a good tool, but based off my exposure and passion, senior management or even human resources in some capacity and an MBA is what I'm headed toward."

Having participated and placed in case study competitions providing solutions to real-world business problems, across the country, Washburn is completely certain of one thing – he's abundantly prepared to conquer the professional world.

"A&T and the resources it offers does a great job of preparing students who want to be prepared," said Washburn.


A Healthy Dose of Help 

Linh TranWhen Linh Tran and his family had the opportunity to move from his native country of Vietnam to the United States, they were beyond ecstatic. It would prove to be a life-changing opportunity. 

"Everyone basically does farming where I'm from," said Tran. "So just getting an opportunity to come to America was everybody's dream.  

On Saturday, May 13, Tran's dream of a better education will come to pass when he receives a Bachelor of Science in biology, the first step on his path to becoming a medical doctor.   

His dream has become a reality through a rigorous schedule of classwork, undergraduate research and community service. From his freshman year, Tran was intrigued by the remarkable research taking place on campus. Starting off as a lab assistant responsible for basic laboratory maintenance, he observed the procedures and experiments taking place around him. By his sophomore year, he was conducting research on finding and successfully identifying and naming a new bacteriophage – a virus that infects and replicates within a bacterium.  

Tran continued as a stellar undergraduate researcher during his junior and senior years, even presenting some of his work at a national conference in Washington, D.C. 

While academic excellence is of foremost importance to Tran, he is just as passionate about being of service to others, particularly since he received so much care and kindness when he says he needed it most.  

"Coming to the United States was a big challenge. When I arrived, everything was different. The culture and the language, it was all different. I basically had to start from scratch adapting to everything," said Tran. "In high school I almost dropped out, but a senior classmate helped me get past that time in my life, got me back on track, and I graduated with honors. Everyone at A&T has been just like that. They have been willing to help me with anything I needed, from culture to academics.   

"When there is a door in front of you and a friend goes through first, they hold that door for you to get in. I haven't seen that anywhere else. At A&T, when you go through that door, you hold it for someone else. I will carry that to my next level and if anyone needs help, I will be willing." 

"Holding the door," for others, Tran established the Asian American Association on campus to help ease the transition for others like himself.  

"We showcase our culture, but it is also important to help Asian students trying to adapt to a new culture and environment," he said. "It helps to have an environment where you first feel at home  then it will be easier to reach out to other communities and clubs on campus." 

Following graduation, Tran will continue his research for one year before entering medical school.  


Engineering possibilities

Maya WhitlowWhen Maya Whitlow was asked how she managed to maintain a stellar academic record with clubs and activities at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, her answer was surprising.

"Honestly, I really don't know how I did it. I guess it is my work ethic," she said. "I just want to be excellent in all aspects of life."

Whitlow, 22, is one of more than 1,300 students who will graduate from N.C. A&T in ceremonies beginning at 8:30 a.m., Saturday, May 13.

She came to N.C. A&T as a recipient of the prestigious Lewis and Elizabeth Dowdy Scholarship. Initially, she was unsure of her course of study, but she took her mother's advice. The rest is history.

"My mom suggested engineering," she said. "I've always been good in science and math. When I looked into it, I thought, 'it makes good money and it's something I'm good at'."

She finally settled on mechanical engineering because of the opportunity to focus on an aerospace concentration.

"My grandfather would have me around when he was building and repairing planes," Whitlow said. "He was his own uncertified engineer."

In her time at A&T, Whitlow has learned just how broad the field of engineering is and the different things that can be done within it. "One aspect may not pique one person's interest, but another will. For example, I like design and testing, and others may like analysis."

As a student, Whitlow participated in undergraduate research, a cooperative learning experience with Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Georgetown, Ky., and two internships with the Boeing Company in St. Louis, Mo., where she will begin work following graduation.

Her home site will be St. Louis and she will interview with managers to determine where she wants to go next. South Carolina, Washington, California, Texas, Alabama and Pennsylvania are all possibilities. As a participant in the two-year Engineering Career Rotational Program, she'll have the opportunity to work in four different areas on six-month rotations.

Wherever she lands within Boeing, it's a sure bet that the work ethic that was the foundation of her success at A&T will stand her in good stead.


A Training Ground for Success

Trey RileyGreensboro, N.C. (May 10, 2017) - Exactly one week after Trey Riley walks across the stage Saturday, May 13, at Greensboro Coliseum to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Arts, the Orangeburg, South Carolina, native will head to San Francisco as a second lieutenant officer to begin four years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force.

Riley's stint in San Francisco is just a small part of his life goals. With a degree concentration in acting and an unconventional minor in military science, he knows it's necessary to have a well thought out plan.

"I ultimately plan to retire early from the military, then fully solidify my acting career in film and television and fulfill my business aspirations," he said.

"I really enjoy aspects of both acting and the military. And I gained a lot of leadership experience in ROTC and acting and theatre," said Riley. "Obviously, I've never experienced active duty, but acting will never stop. I will find a way to work around it like I did here at A&T."

Having to "work around it" is something that Riley has become accustomed to. During the academic year, his days were always hectic, with Tuesdays and Thursdays being a whirlwind of non-stop activity. Riley acknowledges he sometimes doesn't know he kept up with the demanding pace.

"My day starts at 4 a.m. I have PT (physical training with ROTC), then I have my personal workouts, then there's a constant studying of lines and Air Force knowledge and studying for tests and exams," said Riley. "As an upperclassman, I managed cadets, so I had to prepare orders and activities for them. Even when ROTC is over I still have rehearsals that can last until midnight. I've constantly had to divide my mindset so that nothing gets lost."

Unbeknownst to him, Riley has become a campus trailblazer, successfully devising a track for budding theatre majors and ROTC participants. However, it took a great deal of maneuvering and constant communication.

"The whole time I was thinking there were people before me, but there weren't. There was no path already traveled," said Riley. "I discovered it was always important for me to keep my professors in the loop. Had I kept my mouth shut, things probably wouldn't have gone as well as they did. Every semester, I always had a conflict with either ROTC or theatre classes. I talked to my professors, and they worked with me."

Even as Riley has experienced the demanding training of both ROTC and theatre, he notes his greatest, life-altering and most rewarding training has come simply from being an Aggie.

"A&T helped solidify my professionalism within my craft and as a business professional. And then put me to the test," he said.


Determination and Mentorship – A Prescription for a Bright Future

Kedeja AdamsJust a few short years ago, Kedeja Adams was the first of four siblings to graduate high school, and she did so with a 1.7 grade point average. In the fall, she will start medical school at East Carolina University as a recipient of the Brody Medical Scholarship that will cover up to four years of medical school.

"It feels very unreal, but it feels good knowing that no matter where you come from or how you start, it matters where you finish," she said.

Adams, 22, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, is one of more than 1,300 who will graduate from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in ceremonies beginning at 8:30 a.m., Saturday, May 13.

She came to North Carolina A&T from an unremarkable path. With a less than stellar high school GPA, she enrolled in Central Piedmont Community College and later took a job at Carolinas Medical Center-University.

"I was working third shift at Circle K and was looking for another job," she said. "That is how I ended up at the hospital."

While working as a medical transcriptionist, Adams met Dr. Kellye Worth Hall, an Aggie and an East Carolina University Pirate. Hall became her mentor and pushed her beyond what she thought possible.

"At first, I thought about becoming a (physician's assistant), then I had a conversation with Kellye, and she said, 'Why stop'," Adams shared. "I told her I didn't have the best grades and she said, 'Just go to A&T, and see what happens.' "

Adams finished Central Piedmont with a 2.8 grade point average, and A&T accepted her as a transfer student. She hasn't looked back.

"It's been a little different because I came here as a transfer student but I have always felt like I had a family here," Adams said. "There are so many people, other students, who are doing great things. I latched on to some of them, and everyone was supportive."

After medical school, Adams has plans to return to her hometown to work in the same low-income neighborhood where she grew up.

"My biggest thing is to make sure I give back what Kellye gave to me – I want to start my own mentoring program," she said.


Microsoft Awaits Former Mister A&T

Jeffron Q. Smalls

Greensboro, N.C. (May 9, 2017) - For Jeffron Q. Smalls, senior year has been a non-stop sprint.

"It was draining but I learned a lot," he said.

Smalls, 22, served as Mister North Carolina A&T State University for the 2016-17 academic school year while completing his requirements for the bachelor's degree in industrial and systems engineering.

A native of Georgetown, South Carolina, the self-described "country boy" said he never imagined he would be where he is at this moment.

"It's kind of unreal. I'm in a daze sometimes," he said. "I just wanted to get a degree and make my family proud. I never saw all this extra stuff. All the people around me believed in me and saw what I didn't see in myself."

Smalls is one of more than 1,300 who will graduate from N.C. A&T in ceremonies beginning at 8:30 a.m., Saturday, May 13. On July 10, he will begin the next step of his professional journey at Microsoft in Seattle, Washington, where he will work as a supply chain engineer.

"I was already interviewing with different companies and settling for what I had," Smalls said. "Microsoft wanted to interview me during homecoming week, and I explained that I had a lot of duties to fulfill, so I couldn't do it."

But after a conversation with his academic and Student Government Association advisors, Smalls decided to take Microsoft up on the interview offer.

"I did like five interviews in one day, and I walked away knowing I had the position," he said.

Smalls is pleased with his journey in Aggieland and says that A&T has motivated him to do and be better.

"A&T has me feeling like I can do anything and I'm prepared for anything that comes my way," he said.'


Seizing the Opportunity

Niyah BrooksUnsure of whether she really wanted to attend North Carolina A&T State University, Niyah Brooks was sold following an encounter with Professor Gail Wiggins in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, during an open house.

"I always knew I wanted to go to an HBCU, not necessarily A&T, but when I went on a tour [of A&T] and met Mrs. Wiggins she gave me so much encouragement and told me so many things I could do in my field and how I could get involved. Meeting her, I felt I could do anything I wanted to do in my major. It made me feel like A&T was the place for me," said Brooks, a journalism and mass communication major.

It's been four years and Brooks has indeed taken advantage of nearly every opportunity that has come her way as well as facilitated a few initiatives of her own. In one month, she will take those opportunities, her education, skillset and strategies to "The Big Apple" where she will be an account executive working with major brands Ikea and Phillips Electronics for the award-winning public relations agency, Ketchum.

Brooks' solidified position post-graduation is proof positive that the long nights of studying, intensive internships (with the NBA, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Warner Music Group and many more), volunteerism, University Honors Program and the extensive responsibilities of being a White House HBCU All-Star have all been invaluable to her success.

She says embracing what was offered has been key to her success. Participating in campus media outlets – WNAA  90.1 FM, the television studio, the A&T Register and more – gave Brooks a competitive edge as a student.

"From the classroom setting to different internships, I definitely feel prepared," said Brooks. "Many great professors pushed me and gave me leadership roles and that has given me the confidence to go after things. Anytime I participated in an internship or a professional role, I felt very confident in myself and that came from the people at A&T."