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Bashirah Moore Education

Morgan State Graduate Students Elevate Leadership Skills Through Immersive Fellowship Opportunities

by Morgan State U
June 02, 2022

Talented Scholars Selected for Professional Fellowship Programs at Fortune 500 Companies


After spending eight years serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, fighting in Iraq and Kuwait, Christopher Blackwell-Vines knew he wanted to return to Baltimore to make a difference in the distressed communities he was all too familiar with. A budding entrepreneur with a strong desire to lead, he recognized very early that he would need guidance and structure to help him become the successful business professional he aspired to be. 

“If I was going to be superman and try to save the world, I have to start at home,” said Blackwell-Vines. “I recognized that once I reentered the working world, there were going to be some technical skills that I needed.” 

After returning from deployment, he enrolled at a local university and earned his undergraduate degree in business administration. While pursuing his degree, Blackwell-Vines established Lift, a non-profit organization whose mission was anchored in supporting young men through mentorship. The consummate entrepreneur, he started his own free-lance photography business in 2019 under the moniker CBV Professional Services.

Christopher Blackwell-Vines“The plan was always to remain local and explore local opportunities, but I knew that I needed a better understanding of business strategy and the science of business operations.”

Blackwell-Vines was certain that a master’s degree in business administration was what he needed to get him to the next level. After enrolling in the Earl Graves School of Business here at Morgan, Blackwell-Vines remembers hearing about the Hennessy Fellows Program during orientation.

“They had a pitch competition, I entered it and I won,” said Blackwell-Vines. “When asked why I should be the next fellow, I equated myself to Hennessy and what it takes to make the perfect cognac. This fellowship will be a part of the grooming process that prepares me for the challenges ahead.”

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), in partnership with Hennessy, awards high-achieving graduate students representing a variety of degree tracks and majors from liberal arts to sciences and engineering, from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs) with specially curated corporate development experiences, as well as financial assistance. These experiential learning programs include online training forums, an immersive boot camp and networking opportunities designed to enhance the exchange of ideas and provide direct exposure to interrelated corporate, social and economic systems. Selected fellows receive a scholarship up to $20,000 per academic year for up to two years and a one-time $10,000 stipend.

Jerrin Strayhorn, program director for the TMCF believes the program’s rigorous curriculum will assist motivated students with the development of core competencies needed to perform successfully in senior level positions at high-performing organizations. “This is the fourth cohort. This year five HBCUs participated in the program…220 applications [and] we’ve had a lot of engagement from MSU.”

According to Joseph Wells, director of Graves School of Business master’s program, Morgan places a “heavy emphasis” on professional development across several key touchpoints including case competitions, internships and project-based learning. “Programs like Hennessy Fellows reinforce and build-upon our own professional development courses that are required for all incoming master’s students to complete in their first two semesters,” added Wells.

Hennessy FellowsThis year, four Morgan MBA students were selected to participate in this cycle. Joining Christopher Blackwell-Vines are three exemplary scholars from the Graves Master program, Temitope Ajibola, Bashirah Moore and Kourtnei Langley who collectively comprise Morgan’s fourth cohort of the Hennessy Fellows Program.

“These students will receive intensive professional development support through seminars and other avenues sponsored by Hennessy designed to prepare them for senior level positions in Fortune 500 companies,” said Wells. “In addition to the development, they are exposed to corporate senior leadership for mentoring opportunities. Finally, all of the Hennessy Fellows join an exclusive club of students, and they network with each other for support and guidance.”

Being selected in a merit-based fellowship offers students the opportunity to do something exceptional that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to achieve in a typical job setting or through an internship.

Temitope AjibolaIn February 2021, almost a year into the pandemic, Temitope Ajibola started his MBA studies remotely from Nigeria. Faced with the challenges of not having reliable internet access and the loss of his father, Ajibola persevered to maintain a 4.0 each semester.

As the pandemic began to subside in December of 2021, he finally moved his studies to America and the National Treasure. Always looking for the opportunity to improve his skills, the Hennessy Program seemed like the appropriate trajectory to prepare him for the next steps beyond his undergraduate degree in Computer Science.

“I knew that in order to grow in my role, I needed networking opportunities and mentorship,” said Ajibola. “Beyond skill, you need emotional intelligence to grow in corporate settings. This experience has ignited my passion to succeed.”

Bashirah Moore, another recipient of the Hennessy Fellows Program, has an undergraduate degree in Community Health, and a Master of Science degree in Health Science. As an MBA student at Morgan, she leads an ambitious professional life in pharmaceutical sales and during her free time, she is committed to addressing inequities in the community through education and empowerment. 

“The Hennessy fellowship program will help me build upon what I have already learned and will contextualize and validate what I already know,” said Bashirah Moore. Moore, who has been in pharmaceutical sales for eight years, plans to use the experience to help her expand her career to focus on equity in marketing in urban areas. “I have the tools. This program will assist me with understanding how to apply them and assist with leadership development.”

Bashirah MooreThe Hennessy Fellows program starts in June and will be immersive, requiring students to travel between New York, Washington D.C. and Atlanta. Fellows will participate in various training programs that will cultivate leadership development skills and provide networking opportunities and exposure to C-suite level interactions at fortune 500 companies.

While participating in the fellowship program Blackwell-Vines plans to continue his community outreach by focusing on homelessness in Baltimore. His current project “Baltimore Rescue Coop” is designed to take a holistic approach to addressing homelessness in the city. The goal is to focus on addressing food resiliency, gaps in educational and vocational services and providing health resources in one space across the city.

As a graduate assistant with the Earl Graves School of Business, Ajibola will continue his work on the development of a student management investment fund designed to help students with transitioning into financial management. “America presents the opportunity to expand and bring ideas to life. The more you come into new information, the more the frontiers of your mind are expanded and the more you raise your expectations.”

Cultivating Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Organic Agriculture and Trade

Katrina Pitts, who is pursuing her doctorate in Community College Leadership in the School of Education and Urban Studies, has joined the Organic Trade Association (OTA) as the organization’s first Diversity & Entrepreneurship Program Fellows.

The OTA is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. As the leading voice for organic trade in the U.S., it represents more than 9,500 organic businesses across 50 states. Its members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others.

At OTA, Pitts will focus on research and program development, leveraging her technical grant writing experience to help the association identify additional sources of support for Justice Equity Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) initiatives. She will also support OTA in the development of its JEDI council toolkit and internal diversity guidelines.

Katrina Pitts“I am excited to be supporting the efforts of the Organic Trade Association and to work together to protect the environment and the well-being of our communities,” said Pitts. “I love the fact that the association is being intentional about ensuring all voices of the community are included in a collaborative manner.”

The fellowship is a key component of OTA’s Diversity & Entrepreneurship Fund (DEF) efforts, spearheaded by Vice President of Administration Stephanie Jerger. It also includes a targeted membership program to expand representation from organizations owned by and serving persons of color. Recognizing the structural inequities that have historically kept many leaders and communities of color out of the certified organic industry, OTA will waive all fees and provide full access to industry resources for DEF members over a period of two years. The association also actively recruits members of color for its Farmers Advisory Council and regional farming associations, which play a fundamental role in shaping OTA policy positions.

“This is an exciting opportunity for growth and development for OTA and for our fellows,” said Jerger. “It is a further demonstration of our commitment to advancing equity in our organization and throughout the organic industry.”

Organic products represented by the association include organic foods, ingredients and beverages, as well as organic fibers, personal care products, pet foods, nutritional supplements, household cleaners and flowers. The association’s DEF work is generously supported by member organizations: Organic Valley, Stonyfield, General Mills, Danone, Organically Grown and National Co+op Grocers.


Advanced Computing with IBM

Morgan’s School of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences began accepting students into its graduate level advanced computing program in the fall of 2020. The MS in Advanced Computing program preserves the core of Computer Science (CS) while possessing unique strength in emerging areas in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, data science and cloud computing. The program is designed to assist students who wish to enhance their career and explore research opportunities.

Funbi Ogunwale and Barisi Nuka, two students in the Master of Science in advanced computing program, recently received the prestigious IBM Masters Fellowship award. Through this fellowship, IBM seeks to increase the number of underrepresented minority students from disadvantaged backgrounds working in the field by cultivating a diverse applicant pool of participants from the nation’s HBCUs.

The IBM Masters Fellowship program fosters collaboration between faculty, students and the university by recognizing and supporting exceptional masters’ students who want to make a difference in their area of focus with a $10,000 single award year.


Using Architecture to Address Food Resiliency

At Morgan the graduate program in Architecture uses coursework and research to address how design affects urban society and its built environment. Students are offered programs in Landscape Architecture, City and Regional Planning and Construction Management.

Thanks to the Campus Compact Mid-Atlantic (CCMA) Fellows program, Durmon W. Jones III, is able to continue his academic pursuits in obtaining a master’s degree in Architecture and expand his outreach to support urban design and farming in Baltimore’s Park Heights community.

Campus Compact Mid-Atlantic mobilizes the collective commitment of like-minded community partners with higher education institutions across the region to develop global citizens who advance equity and sustainability.

“By participating in the Mid-Atlantic Civic Fellowship, I will obtain first-hand experience and insight through the fellowship’s seminars and visits,” said Jones. “This experience and insight will come from a professional level. It will further develop my skills and understanding of how to effectively aid communities, community-based designs and initiatives.”

Durmon plans to leverage his industry knowledge gained through his SA+P coursework and experiential learning opportunities, such as his work with Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm in West Baltimore, to preserve and strengthen communities on a social and economic level as a licensed architect and landscape architect.

Durmon W. Jones “I’ve learned a substantial amount about the built environment, from the foundation to the roof. One thing that stood out to me was community design and the lack of diversity regarding Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) within the built environment and how often designers will not consider their surroundings.”

One of his current projects, which was organized by Dr. Samia Kirchner, associate professor of Architecture and interim chair of the Department of Undergraduate Design, tasked a team to design an Urban Demonstration Kitchen to support an existing urban farm in Baltimore’s Park Heights community, a low-income majority Black neighborhood with immense food insecurities. Currently under development, once completed the urban kitchen installation will tackle the food insecurities within Park Heights head-on.

The research and fellowship opportunities that Morgan faculty and students are actively engaging result from proactive measures of university and business partners, who have made a deliberate and conscious effort to provide opportunities and resources for high-performing students to have a “seat at the table.”

From the Hennessy Fellowship to the CCMA Fellows program, the accomplishments of these scholars are a true sign of the commitment and fortitude of Morgan graduate students. They embody the unrelenting perseverance and continuous pursuit of excellence of Morganites. The entire Morgan Community wishes them well on their journey to academic enrichment and professional pursuits!