Major Interests: Healthcare, Economics, History, Art, Fashion, Music
AB: Being from West Orange, what were your motives behind attending Rutgers-New Brunswick? Was it your number one choice? Did you apply solely to the School of Pharmacy?
OO: The main motive behind me attending Rutgers University was money and long term security. Rutgers was not my number one choice, it was my “safety”. I did very well at West Orange High School (WOHS) and was given admission to schools like UPenn, Columbia, UChicago, UNC Chapel Hill, to name a few. Initially I was completely against the thought of going to Rutgers-New Brunswick and didn’t apply until late January/early February after my father convinced me to. I applied to the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, School of Engineering, and the School of Arts & Sciences. But when it came down to paying for school I had to be honest, was it worth going to an Ivy League school for a Bachelor’s and over $150,00 in debt or go to Rutgers Pharmacy, a very respected program on a scholarship. Now it seems like a no-brainer but at 18 with an ego and a little hubris, I thought I was too good for this institution. I thank God and my parents for allowing me to look at the situation with some wisdom and I’d make the same decision again.
The Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, is by far the most competitive school to enroll in at Rutgers University. When in high school did you decide that becoming a pharmaceutical technician was your ideal career? Were there ever times during your tenure in college where you felt as if the work was too overbearing?
Prior to college I had no idea what a pharmacist did, I didn’t know it was a doctoral degree, or a healthcare profession. I never had health problems and really wasn’t into the healthcare system but we have a few pharmacists in our family. My sister was also in Temple University School of Pharmacy and told me Rutgers program was very good. So I applied because I heard it was the hardest school to get into at Rutgers and I wanted to become a doctor, so I figured I could do this first and then go to medical school after.
There are definitely times I considered the work overwhelming. I kind of coasted through my first two years but in my third year, the doctoral portion of the program began and I was far from prepared. I was still a kid trying to have fun and didn’t understand that the workload and expectations would increase so quickly and to such a degree. I was so accustomed to getting A’s with relative ease that when my grades dropped, I didn’t know how to take it. At first I thought about giving up and just changing majors, in my head I’d make excuses like, “I never wanted to do Pharmacy anyway” or “I’ll just go to med school, that was the plan anyway”, but those were just excuses because I was afraid of failing. But giving up just isn’t something I’m fond of and I knew those were just excuses because I didn’t know how to face adversity. So I had to learn how to balance school, my social life, and work. Sleep eventually was cut out of the equation [laughs].
A degree from the School of Pharmacy grants you a great job and salary immediately out of college. So with that being said, what’s the ideal goal or job position you want secure in the long-run?
Being a pharmacist is a great career and it does provide me with the means to be well off but I plan on going to medical school after. The accelerated program at Rutgers allows me to graduate with a doctorate at a relatively young age and still be able to work for a few years, make some money and still go back to school in my mid/late 20’s. Ideally, I would like to use my knowledge of drugs and treatments and couple that with the skill of being a doctor and advance my career. Maybe own my own practice and a pharmacy.
As I’m sure you know, not a great amount of African-Americans choose to go into science or pharmaceutical-based majors. In the future, would you want to campaign or politic for programs that help draw more minorities to science-based majors?
I worked extensively with the NAACP on getting students in high school to come to college, and Rutgers in particular. I never focused on getting minorities into Rutgers Pharmacy in general or to be doctors, my aim has always been to place an emphasis on education and using it to build your dream no matter what your interest are. I do go back to my high school to recruit students and talk to juniors and seniors about college and keep them focused in my own capacity, I feel giving back is really important because I learned from all my family ahead of me and its great to have people to look up to. It makes it a lot easier to aspire to be great when you can see tangible greatness in your own life.
You’re also known around campus to take great pride in your wardrobe and your style of dress. Where would you say this attribute comes from? What are some clothing brands that you pay special attention to?
I like to think that I am a fusion of my parents. My dad is a research scientist and my mom is a “fashionista” in her own sense. My parents and family have always stressed the importance of appearance. No matter what, you always want to be well-kept because before open your mouth people have prematurely judged you based on how you carry yourself. My style comes from pop culture, my peers, and my own personal preferences. I fuse a lot of style looks based on what I think works for me. A few major brands I like are BAPE, Supreme, Pyrex Vision, J.Crew, Ralph Lauren, Pendleton, Burberry, to name a few but lately I like to support upcoming designers especially my peers.
What celebrities or even fellow peers do you look at as fashion-forward or stylish?
I’m a pretty big fan of Kanye West, Big Sean, Kid Cudi, Jay Z, and John Legend, to name a few. I feel they all push creativity and fashion in their own way. I don’t like everything they do but I respect their individuality. As far as my peers, I draw inspiration from everyone immediate friend to random people walking on the streets wearing something clean. A lot of my friends have their own style and I appreciate that but I usually take something I see that I like and put my own spin on it.
You’re also the former president of the NAACP club at Rutgers. What drew you to the position and what did you learn from a leadership standpoint during your time as president?
I was drawn to NAACP because of the topics that were discussed. My freshmen year, I took “Black Experience in America” and other classes that opened my eyes to a lot of things I was never exposed to growing up in West Orange/Essex County. I grew up in such a diverse neighborhood, my best friends were Nigerian, Jewish, German, Jamaican, and Indian so a lot about race and class weren’t as apparent to me. So when I began to learn about history of African-Americans especially and how much hasn’t changed I felt compelled to do something about it. NAACP was the perfect outlet to me, a nationally recognized and respected organization with direction and focus that encompassed much of my interest.
I was drawn to president because I felt I was the right person for the job, I had the longest tenure at the time but more importantly I feel I’m very down to earth and easy to talk to and people tend to gravitate towards me. Also, I’m very selfless and do what I feel is best for the team, with my only focus being completing the task at hand. As a leader, I feel you should carry yourself as such but also be connected with your body, I felt I could do both and had a lot of god ideas that I felt could help the organization grow.
I see that you’re a person who deeply cares about their heritage. How deeply does your African roots and background influence your life in terms of work ethic, aesthetic, and personality?
History, heritage, and family are all huge to me. I was raised by a village in a sense. Both my dad are mom are one of seven and have extensive extended family who all were in my life and helped raised me. My upbringing has definitely made me who I am today, coupled with my friends and peers. My parents accepted nothing less than the best academically and domestically. In order to play sports and hang out with my friends, all chores had to be done and homework as well, A’s were the only acceptable grades. If anything else was earned it was because of laziness and lack of focus, so that pushed me to succeed. Also many of my family members are doctors, lawyers, nurses, professors, etc., so coming from a family of people who have made it, making it was expected and not praised.
In your tenure at Rutgers University, what has been the most gratifying experience that made you change your approach or ideology in life?
High School Outreach was the most gratifying experience to me by far, in terms of social experience. Opening the eyes of the youth to the college experience and more importantly the liberty and ability to build a better life with a degree is so fulfilling. There was nothing better than seeing people you housed or educated on the importance of college going to college and succeeding when they get there. Academically graduation will be the next most gratifying experience but I have to wait until May for that.
Taking classes like “Black Experience in America” and a lot of personal reading has changed my approach to life. I was very “naive” when I first arrived at Rutgers but that class and many more [classes] have helped me to learn how to think. Reason deductively, read and discern facts from opinions and formulate my own theories on life, which I feel is the most important thing you should have when you leave college. The ability to think, to formulate an opinion based on facts and not opinions, it seems like it should come naturally but it doesn’t.*