At 22 years old, Emmanuel Johnson stands before us drenched in the makings of the “American Dream.” Johnson is a first generation college student who has defied the odds to become the first North Carolina A&T State University Student Fulbright awardee. With the funds that come with the prestigious award, he will pursue a master’s degree in robotics at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.

The pomp and circumstance that can come with the honor of being a history maker has led Johnson to reflect on how far he has come. It’s difficult to believe that the senior computer engineering student was once a high-school class clown frequenting the in-school suspension room.

As he prepares to graduate in spring 2013 with more stoles and accolades than the majority of his peers it’s even harder to believe that a former teacher could muster up the audacity to tell a young Johnson, “You will never amount to anything in life.” Luckily for Johnson, the words of his high-school mentor hold true, “Success is not based on your past or your current state it’s how hard you’re willing to work.”

Johnson is no stranger to hard work. His dedication to excellence was fueled and tested by his decision to attend N.C. A&T. In fall 2009, Johnson boarded a train, alone, from his hometown of New Brunswick, N.J., with not much more than his luggage and “a dream to graduate from  A&T.” His dedicated spirit allowed him to win many scholarships which helped him afford the college tuition.

Although he had defined his major goal as graduation and spent countless nights in the library working towards it, Johnson was making lasting impressions on members of the faculty and staff along the way. Dr. Galen Foresman met Johnson as a freshman in his philosophy class and has served as a mentor for the past four years.

“When Emmanuel had an idea or path he wanted to pursue he was really good about going after it,” Foresman said. Anna Whiteside of the university honors program credits Foresman for doing “the university a service by identifying Emmanuel and just putting it in his ear and getting him to think about it.” According to Johnson much of the help he received during the rigorous application process for the Fulbright award came from Foresman and Whiteside.

From New Jersey to North Carolina and North Carolina to England, Johnson is no stranger to new environments. When he was eight years old he moved to the United States from Monrovia, Liberia. His ability to adjust to new cultures will serve him well as a Fulbright awardee.

Being a Fulbright awardee is an honor because of the naturally competitive nature of the program. According to Minnie Battle Mayes, director of the office of international programs, “after the application the first round is to be recommended for the award then you have to be approved in-country.” Johnson was recommended by the campus Fulbright Committee out of a pool of 10 interested students at A&T. 

Johnson understands the significance of his position but his passion is to use his story to inspire others. The scholar asks, “If I can make it from my situation, coming to college with no money, never having had a 4.0 and being able to have multiple semesters with a 4.0, what’s stopping you?”

Throughout his tenure at A&T, Johnson has received a host of scholarships, awards and recognitions and has served in many leadership positions. He boasts an impressive grade point average that even at its lowest sits in the 3.6-3.9 range. Johnson is the president of the Beta Epsilon Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.  He has served on the Chancellor’s Academic Review Commission and the Regional Board of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). Although he sees the value in his honors, he remains committed to the bigger picture.

Ultimately Johnson plans to obtain a doctorate degree from Carnegie Mellon University and use his expertise to return to A&T and build a comprehensive robotics program. “Looking at my background and the value that A&T has added and the type of students we have here it would be more beneficial to give back to the place where I started.”

“It’s not about winning awards and going overseas it’s about what got me here,” says the humble trail-blazer.