Different Worlds: Sweatt Center Alumnus Shares his Journey from Nigeria to Austin to San Francisco
When Rotimi Ogunmola first set foot on the sprawling UT Austin campus, he was taken aback by the drastic change of scenery compared to the schools he attended in West Africa and London.
“Freshman year was a very challenging time for me,” says Ogunmola, who spent most of his school years in Nigeria, and later in the United Kingdom, where he attended an international boarding school. “It wasn’t easy adjusting to such a large campus with so many people from different backgrounds. I knew I had to pick myself up and take charge of my life and my goals—that’s what they teach you at UT.”
As one of the few Black students on campus, Ogunmola knew he had to find some student groups to feel more connected with his new home. He soon joined several student orgs and pre-professional groups including the Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males (formerly known as AAMRI), a faculty-led initiative that provides a sense of community and guidance for personal, academic and professional success.
“If you’re not in a student org or network, you feel alone,” Ogunmola says. “Joining AAMRI really made my time at UT much more enjoyable. It feels great seeing so many people who look like me who all deserve to be at this world-class university pursuing big ambitions and dreams.”
Throughout the semester, the Sweatt Center offers one-on-one meetings with faculty members, Power Hour student networking sessions with catered dinners and speaker events starring empowering African American leaders. Currently all events are offered online during the pandemic.
“We attempt to ensure that the Black males on campus, within their few numbers, feel a sense of belongingness and connection on campus,” says Sweatt Center Director Ryan Sutton. “When you see very few people that look like you, it is great to be reassured that you are not in this alone.”
After graduating from the McCombs School’s rigorous five-year Integrated MPA program in 2017—earning both his bachelor’s and master’s in accounting— Ogunmola took on a high-level job at a firm in Manhattan. By the time he was ready to make a move, he received a chance phone call that would soon alter his course.
“I remember Dr. Sutton called me up just to see how I was doing,” Ogunmola says. “I told him I was transition in jobs, and he offered to give my name to a recruiter at a prestigious private equity firm in San Francisco.”
Now living in the City by the Bay, Ogunmola knows he can hit the ground running in his new job as a private equity analyst at Vista Equity. When self-doubt creeps in, he’ll tap into the lessons he gleamed from the many people at UT Austin who helped him along his journey.
“My life is a series of people in certain moments who molded me into who I am today,” Ogunmola says. “I will always remember the professors who pulled me aside to talk when I didn’t perform as well as expected on a test. I’m also grateful for the friends I made in AAMRI and Black Business Students Association—many of whom I’m still connected with today.”
Ogunmola is among the many Sweatt Center alums who are now working in highly sought-after jobs across the country and the world. His success, Ryan says, is a testament to the Sweatt Center’s mission.
“We understand that their success on campus and beyond will depend on much more than just academics,” Sutton says. “We want to challenge them to pay just as much attention to things like their emotional intelligence, mental health, global fluency and healthy relationships as they do their academics. Without a solid grasp on these factors, their academics could suffer despite their intelligence. We know these things will help ensure a higher quality of life past graduation.”
Sutton notes that the Sweatt Center’s goal, in large part, is to expand students’ personal narratives and stretch their vision beyond their perceived boundaries.
“The Sweatt Center looks to holistically develop the young men stepping foot on campus by engaging them in critical conversations, challenging their self-concepts and understanding, providing exposure, and connecting them to resources,” Sutton says.
More about the Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males
Formerly known as the African American Male Research Initiative, the center provides a supportive community for undergraduates with a focus on personal and professional success. Among the center’s many offerings, it includes PowerHour networking sessions with faculty and students, guest speaker events, study abroad resources, and events such as the Black Student-Athlete Summit, Black Male Orientation and the annual retreat.