Take Advantage Not Only of all that CCNY has to Offer, but also the Entire CUNY System

Truman Scholar Ayodele Oti (‘12) Advises Students


Ayodele Oti_CPS Alum

Where are you from and what is your background story? Please share your details from the period before you arrived at CCNY.
I am originally from Tallahassee, Florida. When my parents were married they moved to Florida from New York (my dad by way of Nigeria, my mom by way of a Caribbean-American family rooted in Crown Heights). I am the youngest of three, but to some, I give off only-child energy because of the age difference between my brother, sister, and me (6 and 12 years each, respectively). My parents divorced when I was in 6th grade and I ended up spending much of my adolescence in my mom's household with our cat Smokey. Thanks to my mom, liking CBS, NPR, and cats are always going to be core parts of my identity.

Outside of those interests I loved the performing arts and I was a part of six different sports, with my longest relationship being with soccer. Academically, I was in a gifted program, which now with what we know about such programs, is interesting to grapple with. I do, however, believe this education was a formative part of my K-12 experience. My time in IB and AP classes is owed to that form of tracking, to be honest.

My path to public service started in high school. I had the opportunity to work in government twice and I participated in the Summer Youth Employment Program as a rising sophomore at the Leon County Board of County Commissioners. The following summer I participated in an internship at WCOT — The City of Tallahassee government access channel. During my time at WCOT I created a PSA about a superhero that destroys illegal signage in the city right-of-ways; thankfully there is no evidence on the internet of what they let a rising junior do. 

Of my years before CCNY, my fondest school memories were co-creating a student club with my then-friend called Peace Through Understanding Cultures (PTUC), multiple beach trips with friends to St. George Island off the coast of the Florida panhandle and receiving the 'Dreamer & Doer' superlative at graduation. Honestly, that distinction still tracks; it is a gift and a burden.

What brought you to CCNY and to the Colin Powell School?
I wanted to go to school in New York, though financially it seemed out of reach. Outside of CCNY, I applied to three other schools in my home state, however I was determined to make my New York dreams come true. It was then that I decided to scour the internet for scholarships and came across the Macaulay Honors College. With my SAT scores, this goal felt out of reach and I applied hoping that greater emphasis would be placed on my GPA, extracurriculars, and my commitment to apply early decision. 

I settled on CCNY because at the time I was interested in journalism, and though I did not know the focus area,I knew I wanted to travel internationally and write about social issues, so the International Studies program was really attractive to me. Here I should add, I did not know my parents were actually CUNY graduates (Brooklyn College and CCNY) until I shared where I was applying.

Also, all roads lead back to money; college can be expensive! At the time the Colin Powell School was the Colin Powell Center, and I learned about the flagship fellowship program and other scholarships that were available there. Given my interest in social impact, CCNY felt like the perfect fit because of what was offered. Funny enough, when I came to visit campus with my parents to try to convince them to let me attend ("them" was really my dad), I arranged a visit with the leaders of the Center: now President Boudreau and Dean Rich.

What is your passion or purpose behind pursuing what you did at City College?
I started pursuing internships pretty early in my college career and took my first spring semester of freshman year at charity: water, a nonprofit focused on clean water access in developing countries. That internship influenced the trajectory of my college experience and my career aspirations for a time. 

I wanted to deepen my understanding of the connection between environmental issues, public health, and economic development and through this interest came across the CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies. Thanks to that program, I was able to tap into courses within the CUNY system that at the time were not offered at CCNY, such as community health and geography.

Briefly, how has your career unfolded? How did City College and/or the Colin Powell School help you to get where you are in your career?
My career has been a winding road that has allowed me to come full circle to something I have always been interested in: storytelling.

I have done a lot of different things, and I will spare all the details of how I went from being super passionate about global environmental health to now working in podcasting with role pit stops in operations / program management throughout government, nonprofit, higher education and private research companies. 

For anyone who has not seen Everything Everywhere All at Once, believe me when I say there is probably a multiverse where I am singularly pursuing each of the things I have done or wanted to do. And at some point in each scenario I will engage with storytelling in some way.

CCNY and the Colin Powell School fit into my little multiverse of madness (that's a Marvel reference) because my time in undergrad allowed me to explore so many different things. There was a time when I thought my experience was cohesive, but I now realize I followed where the wind swept me for quite a bit. I have no regrets because you will always find your true self in the end.

Do you have any significant memories or accomplishments from your career or time at City College / Colin Powell School that you would like to share?
The most significant accomplishment was winning the Truman Scholarship, representing both CCNY and the state of Florida. My winning that scholarship would not have been possible without CCNY staff at the Honors Center and the Colin Powell Center. Not only did they make possible the experiences I was able to include in my application (service learning, study abroad, internships, challenging seminars), they also helped me really polish that application. For that, a special shoutout is owed to Jennifer Lutton, who is still around!

At the time of the competition (finalist phase) I was studying abroad for the semester in Costa Rica. Past CCNY finalists and winners held mock interviews with me over poor internet on Skype and sent me words of encouragement when I flew back to the states briefly to do my interview in Atlanta. I am eternally grateful to everyone who helped me along that path to winning, and I especially have them to thank because 75% of my MBA at Baruch-Zicklin was covered because of that scholarship! Seriously, thank you CUNY for keeping me away from serious student debt.

Do you have any advice you could give to current or future students?
Take advantage not only of all that CCNY has to offer, but also the entire CUNY system. As members of the CUNY network, there are so many courses and opportunities that are available if you look for them. If you don't want to create an interdisciplinary major, no problem! Apply for an e-permit to take a class you are interested in on another campus. Are you looking for research opportunities, but your campus doesn't have what you are looking for? No problem, other campuses might have something for you through study abroad or other programs! 

Some of the coolest opportunities that I had throughout college happened because of professors in the CUNY network. I got to study arts and culture in Cuba because of a Baruch faculty member who was quick to get a proposal greenlit when Obama reopened relations; I went dogsledding on a glacier in Iceland and helped with marine biology sample collection in Barbuda due to a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program created by a Brooklyn College professor. 

CCNY has so many great programs, and when we add the rest of CUNY, our educational experience more than rivals any "top" school out there.

What is your current profession / position?
Media and social impact entrepreneur. I currently have a Substack publication called Sounds Like Impact where I curate social impact-related podcasts and calls to action.

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