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Alumni Spotlight: Lincoln Ajoku

Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

Alumni Spotlight: Lincoln Ajoku

Lincoln AjokuCity College Alumnus Lincoln Ajoku,’03, majored in Economics with a minor in International Studies (IS). He was a fellow with the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship program (now run through the Public Service Management program at the Colin Powell School), and in 2013 was selected to receive the Young Leadership Award at the annual Presidential Awards Dinner and Gala. 
 
During his tenure at the City College of New York, Ajoku participated in as many international travel and study abroad opportunities as he could find. Through support provided by IS and the Honors Center, he took courses in business and Chinese in Shanghai. Later he would intern in Rwanda. And he credits the breadth and scope of his experiences as a Watson fellow to be key factors shaping his pursuit of work in international development.
 
What can you say about your formative experiences at City College and their impact on your chosen field? What have you been doing professionally since graduating?
 
I credit the IS program for setting me on my professional path through an internship program in Rwanda, where I was fortunate to intern at the Ministry of Finance for about six weeks. The story of Rwanda is complicated and is now defined by the horrific genocide that took place in 1994. But I and several other IS students who took part in the program got to see a country that was in the process of healing and setting economic goals. We had a real window into the process of restoration: issues of peace, reconciliation, economic development, justice, and education. Working with people at the Ministry of Finance and meeting with Rwandan students—many of whom lived through the genocide and its immediate aftermath—left a lasting impression. 
 
Since then I’ve tried to combine interests in international development, education (domestic and international), and policy to forge my career. I have been a public school teacher through Teach For America in Houston, Texas. After earning my Masters degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, I was awarded a fellowship through the Center for Global Development to serve as an advisor to the Minister of Education in Liberia. It was an assignment that was both fascinating and taxing, as Liberia had emerged just a few years earlier from civil conflict. I spent over two years in the country working on education policy with the government and on an education project funded by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). 
 
Now I’m back in New York City, working with Concern Worldwide U.S. as their Education Advisor. Concern Worldwide is an Irish NGO that started in the late 1960s to care for those affected by the Biafran war in Nigeria  It later grew to support victims of the conflict in what is today Bangladesh during its war to separate from West Pakistan, and today has programs in more than two dozen countries. As the Education Advisor, my role is to support education projects we conduct several countries, including Liberia and Rwanda. I also spend much of my time on issues of education in emergencies and school-related gender based violence. Much of my time now is dedicated to addressing the Ebola crisis and its effect of closing all the schools in the country indefinitely. There’s a concern that in addition to the lives lost and the economic impact of the disease, it could also reverse the slow and hard-won gains Liberia was making in rebuilding its education system. 
 
How have you connected to the departments and the college as an alumnus? 
 

After my recent return to New York, I joined the City College of New York Alumni Association as well as the Business and Economics Alumni Society. It is important to me to stay connected. As an alum, I’ve been proud to see CCNY in the news, especially seeing the accomplishments of students who come from all corners of the world. It’s impressive seeing the ads on the subways that tout the accomplishments of CUNY students – CCNY is always the most represented! The diversity of students is a true strength that should be celebrated, along with the relative affordability of the school given how increasingly expensive college is becoming. These are not things that a lot of colleges in this country can say they have.  

 
How do you think alumni can connect with currently enrolled students? Do you see yourself in a mentorship role?   
 
When I meet current students , I’m instantly taken back to my time at City College. There’s the insatiable desire for knowledge, perceptive questions, and the insights that they share about themselves as they try to make the most of their unique experiences. And they are unique experiences: in many of the countries I have visited or worked in, most people will never have the opportunity to go to college. It’s has been truly humbling to see that in a practical sense. Mentoring is very important to me. For every piece of advice I received from a professor, or the extra time someone took to invest in me as I started on my career path, I realize the importance of hearing from students and making whatever contribution, however small, to help them out along the way. So I enjoy talking over the phone with students, or meeting for coffee to hear their stories and share mine. It is exciting to see the similarities and to think of how they might channel their ambitions. I didn’t go to college thinking that I would be able to study in China, but what I found was that City College was a place that if you dream of doing something, you’ll always find people, whether they be faculty or fellow students, who will help give your ideas a nudge forward.