Two Engineering Students Win Black Scholar Awards

By Neil Nachbar

URI College of Engineering seniors Tunde Akinkuowo and ThankGod (TG) Ugochukwu were among the students who were recognized for their outstanding achievements at the University’s 21st annual Black Scholar Awards ceremony last month.

Akinkuowo, a Providence native who is completing his bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering, received the Harvey Robert Turner Award for Outstanding Service to the University of Rhode Island Black Community. Ugochukwu, a biomedical engineering major from Norwood, Mass., was presented the Saint Elmo Brady Award for Outstanding Achievement in Science.

“Martin Luther King Jr. once said that ‘I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture of their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits,'” said Charles Watson, Assistant Director of Minority Student Recruitment and Retention for the College of Engineering. “The Black Scholar Awards has all of those qualities and I am proud to witness the integrity, pride and spirit the students feel when they are presented with these great awards.”

Tunde Akinkuowo
Carl-Ernst Rousseau, professor and chairman of URI’s Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Systems Engineering, left, presents the Turner Award to Tunde Akinkuowo. URI photo by Michael Salerno.

Tunde Akinkuowo

“The award really came as a shock to me because I was notified at a time when I was really preoccupied with school work,” Akinkuowo said. “I am honored to receive this award.”

During Akinkuowo’s undergraduate career, he completed an industrial engineering internship with Pratt & Whitney, conducted research in the Microfluidics Laboratory at URI and competed in the Solar Car Challenge at North-West University in South Africa.

As a senator and community service chairman for the URI student chapter of the National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE) and a member of Brothers on a New Direction (BOND), Akinkuowo participated in community service projects and mentorship efforts within the URI community, Providence and Pawtucket, RI.

“Giving back to the community and volunteering is important because it’s a way for us to progress as a community, whether it’s speaking to middle school students about college experiences or passing out lunches in downtown Providence,” Akinkuowo stated.

“During the past four years at URI, I have witnessed the growth of this budding engineer,” said Christopher Hunter, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at URI and coordinator of the awards ceremony. “He has become more self-aware and determined to embrace the things that drive him.”

ThankGod Ugochukwu
Charles Watson, left, presents the Saint Elmo Brady Award to ThankGod (TG) Ugochukwu. URI photo by Michael Salerno.

ThankGod (TG) Ugochukwu

“I was very surprised when I found out that I won the award, but it wasn’t until I understood what the Saint Elmo Brady Award really was and the amount of people that could have been chosen instead of me, that I felt a huge sense of accomplishment,” Ugochukwu said.

As a Louis Stokes Alliance for Minorities Participation (LSAMP) program scholar, Ugochukwu has taken advantage of such opportunities as conducting research in the Biomeasurement and Biomedical Instrumentation Design Laboratories and doing an electrical engineering internship at 21st Century Fox in Los Angeles, where he assisted the engineering team in repairing damaged technology.

Like Akinkuowo, Ugochukwu was also very active in the URI community. He was the president of NSBE this year, a member of the URI rugby team and a member of the Student Alumni Association (SAA).

“Participating in these clubs has been important to my development,” Ugochukwu stated. “I learned a lot about professionalism and leadership in NSBE; discipline and camaraderie from playing rugby; and planning and executing events in SAA. All of those experiences helped me become a more well-rounded person.”

“TG’s philosophy on life is to have no regrets, and that is what pushes him with no real boundaries,” Hunter said. “He has a positive spirit and he seems to elevate those around him.”

Who the Awards are Named After

The Harvey Robert Turner Award is named after a man who is believed to be the first Black graduate of URI in 1914. He majored in civil engineering and was a member of the football and track teams.

In 1916, Saint Elmo Brady became the first person of African descent to receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree in chemistry. He had a distinguished research and teaching career, including appointments at Fisk University, Howard University, Tuskegee Institute, and Tougaloo College.