Like many college freshmen, Brandon Okeke needed a little help getting his bearings. He knew he had to meet a number of requirements to maintain his University Leadership Network scholarship, such as volunteer hours, internships and experiential learning training. But on such a sprawling campus, he wasn’t quite sure where to begin.
At a Black male student orientation, he learned about the many opportunities within the African American Male Research Initiative (AAMRI) and decided that would be the best place to start. Within the short span of the spring semester, Okeke has landed an internship position as a research assistant and volunteered at a number of events. Not only is he meeting the requirements of his scholarship, he is also building a solid network of friends and mentors at weekly “Power Hour” meetings, monthly gatherings at Gabriel’s Café and other networking events.
Though he has only just begun his college career, Okeke is already preparing for the workforce by practicing his networking skills at events on and off campus, including the Leadership Institute, an annual event hosted by AAMRI that brings in African American students, scholars, advisers and mentors from schools across the state. The greatest benefit, Okeke says, is learning how to break out of his shell.
Now he is confident while speaking to new people in a professional setting—and in his ability to travel the world. In May, he will be among many other first-generation college students experiencing their first trip abroad as part of the Social Entrepreneurship in China course, a signature program within the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence.
“I feel stronger, smarter and better about myself in general,” says Okeke, a biology freshman. “I’m doing things I never would’ve imaged before, like planning and financing a study abroad trip to China. At first, I didn’t want to do it, but someone told me I’d grow from the experience, and now I couldn’t be more excited.”