Commencement 2017: URI senior wins coveted entrepreneurship opportunity to revitalize communities

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Temidayo ‘Dayo’ Akinjisola . Photo by Nora Lewis

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 4, 2017 –You might say Temidayo ‘Dayo’ Akinjisola was hard at work in supply chain management long before he undertook the study of it.

The University of Rhode Island senior, a political science major and supply chain management minor, had his first introduction to the concept at 5, when stocking the shelves of his father’s Cranston, R.I. convenience store, BD Mart.

Akinjisola’s mom, a nurse, worked on the weekends. So Akinjisola, his father, and his two younger siblings, sister, Toyin ’18, and brother, Jide, would spend their weekends at the store, sweeping floors, stocking shelves, and waiting on the regulars, who would chat up the children as they got their coffees, newspapers and lottery tickets.

Akinjisola’s parents, Nigerian immigrants, laid their bets on their kids. Not even school sports were allowed to get in the way of schoolwork. And, forget television. The only good TV was no TV. (Akinjisola’s father would feel the back of the television set when he returned home, just to be sure his kids stayed on track.) “They were all about education, education and hard work,” Akinjisola said.

Arguably, so is Akinjisola. Just weeks after his May 21 commencement exercises, the 21-year-old Providence, R.I. native will report to Brown University’s campus as a Venture for America fellow. The highly competitive social enterprise nonprofit program (only 10 percent of applicants are accepted) aims to revitalize America’s cities through entrepreneurship. It pairs top college graduates with promising startups. Akinjisola will spend five weeks at a “training camp,” a deep dive into business and entrepreneurial skills-building. Then, in August, it’s off to his as-yet-to-be-determined startup, where he will work for two years.

 

 

Community building and ground-floor ventures are nothing new for Akinjisola. Nor is recognition. Akinjisola is president of the Multicultural Unity and Student Involvement Council, which received the University’s A. Robert Rainville Team Excellence Award earlier this spring in part for its work leading a student-run annual conference, “Diversifying Individuals Via Education” (DIVE RI), that has attracted college students from around the northeast. The conference inspired students from Boston University to start their own student-led diversity conference and prompted URI to offer course credit to students who work on the conference.

“Everything we do is of the students by the students and for students,” said Akinjisola, who co-founded the conference with four upperclassmen. In its first year, the conference hosted more than 200 attendees from across the northeast. “Three years later, I’m the last line of defense. It’s been really cool,” Akinjisola said.

“Student organizations offer the real-life, applicable skills you need. They enable you to cultivate and develop skills for when you leave. I’ve learned about budgeting, financials, discussing and negotiating, presenting a business proposal,” Akinjisola said. “The conference is the thing I’m most proud of. It was just an idea and to have it happen, to have people come to it was amazing. We created that space to allow people to develop themselves.”

Akinjisola is also a resident assistant, a member of the University of Rhode Island Student Senate, treasurer of Brothers on a New Direction, a group dedicated to supporting the growth of young men of color on the University’s campus, and recruitment manager for Breakthrough Providence, a program that pairs college students with low-income, academically motivated students in Providence middle schools – a program Akinjisola once participated in as a middle school student himself. One mentor in particular would “always hit me with knowledge,” Akinjisola recalled. “He’d say, ‘Consider yourself a blank canvas.’ Whenever he saw a problem, he made it a priority to fix it.

“That was a mantra I took on.”

Akinjisola intends to bring all of his experience to bear on his next venture. He has an idea to develop the cultural competency skills of teachers in schools with highly diverse populations. “I’ve always had great teachers who were invested in my success,” he noted.

Then, perhaps law school.

The hard work ahead serves only to energize Akinjisola. Stocking shelves, sweeping floors, planning conferences, mentoring middle school students and studying, always studying: Akinjisola’s is an education that has happened as much outside the classroom as within it. And he welcomes the chance to test theory through practice. “There are no shortcuts to being a great leader,” he said. “You have to go through experiences where you make big mistakes to learn from them.”

Big mistakes seem a farfetched future for one so successful so young. If they should happen, though, Akinjisola will likely remember the lessons of his parents, his teachers, and his mentors.

“There are a lot of problems in the world, but the world would be a better place if people did what they were passionate about,” Akinjisola said. “You can be the one to fix the problem.”