The Black Graduate Student Organization hosted the Black Excellence Award Ceremony with the purpose of recognizing students and faculty who show academic excellence and involvement in the University of Maryland, Baltimore County community.
The BGSO is a fairly new group on campus, having started last fall. According to their website, their goal is to “cultivate Black social experiences and provide a safe space for Black students pursuing higher education.” The ceremony, which was held on Feb. 29, was their first event, which they plan to continue holding biannually. The organization is also very active in the community, volunteering at Second Chance, a non-profit organization that employs displaced and unemployed people. The organization felt that it was necessary to recognize students who are excelling academically and in the community.
Winners of this award could be nominated by anyone at UMBC. Once nominated, they are required to send in a biography describing their achievements.
When Clifford Taylor heard that someone had nominated him for the award, he initially thought it was a joke.
“I asked the president and vice president [of the BGSO] about it and said that someone is punking me,” said Taylor, a first-year graduate student. He is currently earning a certificate in project management and plans on going into technology management.
Before coming to UMBC, Taylor got a bachelor’s degree in production and operations management and served in the army. While enrolling as a graduate student at UMBC, Taylor found that the process of receiving his Veteran Affairs benefits to be difficult. The program he had enrolled in had not yet been approved by the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs, which made it harder for him to obtain funding for education. After reaching out to the university for help, he was directed to Veteran Services, a division of UMBC’s Off-Campus Student Services.
Taylor found that the Veteran Services position specializing in graduate studies was vacant. “I came [to Veteran Services] and they said there is no one here, so I said ‘Well, can I put my hat in?” Taylor recalled.
Taylor now serves as the graduate assistant for Veteran Services, helping veteran students navigate the VA benefits process and strengthen their sense of community through campus events.
Taylor is also an active member of the BGSO, which he originally joined to network and get involved in the community at UMBC. Through the BGSO, Tyler has made both professional and social connections with people on campus, a feat he claims is hard for most graduate students.
“The organization has really helped me,” Tyler said. “It’s challenging because not only being a graduate student but working and having a family … can be a lot for people.”
The BGSO also recognized undergraduate students at the Award Ceremony. Fayokemi Ojo, a senior computer science major, was one of the undergraduate students who won, after being nominated by a few of her friends. She excels academically and is very involved in the community. As president of the Computer Science Education Club, Ojo is interested in helping younger students learn about computer science.
“I do want to get my Ph.D. and do research in computer science education to try to make it more accessible [for high school students],” Ojo said.
Being involved in the Computer Science Education Club allowed Ojo to travel to schools where she could try to help students gain interest in the topic. “A lot of people don’t see themselves as computer scientists because of the lack of representation,” Ojo explained. “It looks like it’s not possible for certain types of people.” She believes going to schools and sharing her knowledge and experience with students will help them see that anything is possible.
For her Ph.D. research, Ojo is hoping to explore ways to make computer science more engaging and interesting for younger students. One way she plans to do this is by incorporating another love of hers — music — into the classroom. She has performed at various UMBC events, such as the opening of OCA Mocha.
“Everybody loves music,” Ojo said. “Using music or something that students are familiar with can be a good medium for making computer science more accessible for students”.
Ojo is currently searching for a Ph.D. program that will allow her to explore her ideas as she ends her undergraduate degree at UMBC.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Fayokemi Ojo’s surname. We apologize for this error.