When NJIT’s Center for Pre-College Programs held its annual closing ceremony for the Bernard Harris Summer STEM Camp (BHSSC) this past July, an unplanned reunion made the event all the more sweet. Damilola Ojoye ’18, a participant of the very first camp in 2007, was in attendance to witness the campers’ presentations, and wound up reconnecting with Bernard Harris, who was there as well.
Soon headed down south for a position with the Georgia Power Company, where he will apply the mechanical engineering knowledge he gained at NJIT, Ojoye vividly remembers being introduced to Dr. Harris all those years ago. “It was amazing meeting him as a child,” he recalled. “Meeting him again [as an adult] made me realize how much of an accomplishment it was for him to be the first African-American astronaut to walk in space.”
Ojoye has himself broken boundaries, as a first-generation college graduate. He was raised in Newark and there shared a one-bedroom apartment with his mother, originally from Nigeria, and older sister. His mom worked two jobs to support the family and strongly advocated for her children’s education.
“Growing up in a strict household, it was imperative for my sister and I to achieve exceptional grades in school,” said Ojoye.
It was his sixth-grade science teacher who, in recognizing his abilities in mathematics and knowing of his desire to become an engineer, recommended that he apply to the BHSSC. Taking part in that camp marked the beginning of a long relationship between Ojoye and the university’s pre-college programs, all aimed at introducing middle and high school students to STEM and helping them prepare for and enroll in college. As a freshman and sophomore, Ojoye was in TRiO’s Upward Bound, both on Saturdays during the academic year and over the summer. Then, as a junior and senior, he moved on to GEAR UP. He also was involved with Talent Search’s Math 139 (now Math 110) program, which enabled seniors from Central High School to take college-level pre-calculus at NJIT and upon passing be awarded free tuition to the university.
“Before the program, I never met any other young children that shared the same career choice as mine,” Ojoye remarked about the BHSSC. “Through the program, I gained a much greater passion for pursuing [education] to become an engineer.”
Laying a Foundation
Ojoye’s history with the university’s pre-college programs proved integral to his decision to attend NJIT for his mechanical engineering studies, as did a swift application-and-acceptance process. When he was a senior at Central High, he represented the school in a mathematics competition on campus. Having learned that NJIT would be conducting on-site admissions that same day, he brought along his academic records.
“I presented my transcript, SAT and ACT scores and was admitted on the spot with a waived application fee,” he explained. “I chose NJIT since I was already familiar with the campus and many of its personnel.”
He also was accepted into the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which he says provided him much needed support, “whether it was academically, professionally, financially or just someone to talk to generally.”
While at NJIT, Ojoye gave back to the many programs that facilitated his passage to college. He was a math tutor for EOP, a tutor and teacher’s aide for Upward Bound, a mentor for incoming EOP and Honors freshmen, and a beacon for BHSSC students, among other functions. This past summer he served as a resident assistant for more than 100 Upward Bound students living in Cypress Hall, an experience that left him with one of his fondest memories of NJIT — on account of a certain eighth-grader getting ready for his freshman year of high school.
“He always reminded me of myself and it was a pleasure being a role model to him,” Ojoye said of the student and then recounted, “On the last day of the program, he asked me for my number to stay in contact, which I approved of. Later that afternoon when he was home, he texted me and said I was ‘low key, like a father’ to him. His words were very heartfelt and I’m glad that I made such an impact in four weeks.”
With the education he received from NJIT, and the skills he acquired at internships at Mott MacDonald and Turner Construction Company, Ojoye is well prepared to launch his career. As a distribution engineer for Georgia Power in the Atlanta metropolitan area, he will be responsible for planning, designing, building, operating and maintaining electrical systems that connect homes and businesses to the power grid. The company’s top goal is to provide reliable electricity efficiently and cost-effectively.
It’s a dream come true for that young boy who more than a decade ago began cultivating his calling through NJIT’s pre-college programs, particularly the BHSSC. Meeting Dr. Harris again proved to be something of a full-circle moment for Ojoye.
“Dr. Harris was wowed by my story as an engineer, especially after I showed him the picture of us when I was a young student in his program. He expressed his joy of seeing an alumni of his summer camp as an engineer.”