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UMES helped dean’s list student find her voice

  • Chicago native to deliver student commentary at 23rd winter commencement

    Tuesday, December 10, 2019
    Gbemisola Okesanjo

    Gbemisola Okesanjo mastered time management and overcame adolescent insecurities to find her voice as a dean's list student at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. 

    The results will be on display when she steps to the lectern Dec. 13 to deliver the class of 2019's student commentary at the university's 23rd winter commencement exercises. 

    “Sola,” as she's known around campus, insists she was an introvert when she came to UMES from Chicago in 2016 on scholarship to be a middle blocker on the volleyball team. 

    When she and the team parted ways at the end of the 2018 season, a series of new opportunities awaited - and she took full advantage of them. 

    She'll graduate with honors a semester early - thanks to taking 18 credit hours a semester - and will enter a trainee program with JPMorgan Chase & Co., the nation's largest bank. 

    Sola, who turned 22 on Dec. 1, spent this past summer in Dallas working for JPMorgan in the company's leadership development program, which turned out to be a dry run that resulted in the job offer. Her performance earned her an award for “exceeding expectations” in the merchant services: marketing intelligence division. 

    Co-workers also pushed her to apply for an invitation to attend the Forbes “Under 30 Summit,” an annual gathering the periodical sponsors to bring together influential millennial-entrepreneurs. She was named a “30 Under 30” Forbes Scholar and traveled to Detroit in late October, where she heard pro athletes Serena Williams and Kevin Durant, and cosmetics entrepreneur Melissa Butler discuss their approaches to being successful business people.

    Butler, in particular, left an impression. Some of the advice Sola took away from hearing her included: “When your gut tells you something, you should follow it” and when you have an idea “the only opinion that matters is your own; not the people around you.” 

    During her three years on UMES' volleyball team, she played alongside student-athletes from Croatia, Fiji, Russia, Montenegro, Serbia and Uganda. 

    “I learned about their cultures, languages and experiences,” she said, which “transformed my mind and broadened my view of the world.” 

    When she stopped playing competitive collegiate sports, Sola experienced an “ah-hah moment.” 

    “I began to realize I was much more than somebody who played volleyball,” she said. “It opened up a whole new world for me.” 

    Sola credits UMES faculty members April Stull and Leesa Thomas-Banks for providing the kind of guidance and advice that has given her confidence as she enters post-college life. 

    “Gbemisola has not wasted a moment … at UMES,” said Thomas-Banks, interim chair of UMES' business, management and accounting department. “She is inquisitive and continues to seek opportunities for development and improvement.” 

    Thomas-Banks calls Sola “thoughtful and ambitious” who promotes “the values of empowering others and striving for excellence.” 

    “I am certain she will become a powerful leader as she develops as a professional,” Thomas-Banks said. 

    Her academic performance has earned her scholarships from the LaGrant Foundation and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund as well as qualified her to join Beta Gamma Sigma, the business honor society. 

    In her spare time, she was an officer in the campus chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, and was a tutor with the university's Center for Access & Academic Success who helped fellow business students. 

    “I wasn't sure (UMES) was going to be right for me,” Sola said, “because nothing in my background ever informed me or prepared me for this experience.” 

    “This university has allowed me to learn self-concept as a black body. It has allowed me to learn about diversity within … and outside my race,” she said. “And it has allowed me to grow among like-minded and contrasting minds.” 

    The youngest of four siblings, Sola is the first to earn a degree from a historically black institution. 

    “This was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she said.