Highlighting the African American Male Initiative
Two graduates talk about their time at Tech and the family they found on campus
By Kristen Bailey may 3, 2018
Growing up in Nigeria, Oladipupo (Ola) Johnson did a lot of traveling with his family, but never to the U.S. He attended boarding school and learned about Georgia Tech from his roommate’s sister, who convinced him to apply.
He didn’t think he’d get in — but he did, and he arrived in the summer of 2014 for Georgia Tech’s Challenge Program, a summer academic preparation program for incoming underrepresented minority students.
The Summer 2014 Challenge Program cohort outside the Historic Academy of Medicine.
In that same Challenge cohort was Brandon Gipson, a computer science major from Virginia who started programming in seventh grade. Gipson had Georgia Tech on his radar at an early age thanks to a teacher and an older student from his high school who had gone on to attend Tech. Like Johnson, Gipson never set foot on campus before coming to Challenge that summer.
For Gipson, culture shock hit once classes started. During Challenge, Gipson and Johnson had been part of a cohort of 73 students. When the fall semester began, their worlds changed.
“I came from a majority minority high school,” Gipson said. “In some ways, it was exciting to get to meet people from all over the world. But, at times, it was alienating.”
Gipson was feeling what numbers show: Though Georgia Tech awards more engineering degrees to women and underrepresented minorities than any other university in the U.S., black men comprise less than 5 percent of the resident student population.
Both Gipson and Johnson will graduate this week, with degrees in computer science and mechanical engineering, respectively. For both, it was community connections that helped lead them to Tech; the community they found here sustained them and was central to their college experience.
Ola Johnson on the steps of the Chapin Building, home of OMED Educational Services, in Harrison Square. Photo by Allison Carter
In his four years here, Johnson has been an active student leader with OMED and beyond. He’s been involved with Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity, the National Society of Black Engineers, and the African Student Association, to name a few. He studied abroad at Georgia Tech-Lorraine in Metz, France, and built vehicles with GT Motorsports. He even emceed a campus-wide event celebrating African culture — Taste of Africa — on the stage of the Ferst Center for the Arts before an audience of nearly 800.
He loved Challenge so much that he returned twice, as a tutor in summer 2015 and as a counselor in 2016, which he counts among his most rewarding experiences.
“Getting to come back and reflect on how far I’d come since I was in Challenge was really amazing,” he said. “And keeping up with the students who arrived that summer has been great. We help each other with classes, help each other find jobs.”
Gipson agrees — Challenge was pivotal, and being around so many smart students was energizing.
“No matter where you end up on campus, your OMED peers never leave,” Gipson said. As part of the video game development club, Gipson has been a project leader and taught software to others. During his involvement, the number of project leaders increased from one to four African-Americans.
“It’s important to have more minorities in game development,” he said. “A lot of minorities play video games, and I want us to have a positive perception in media.”
After graduation, Gipson will move back to Virginia to work for the Department of Defense (DoD). It’s the continuation of a long-held military interest as the son of a marine, attendee of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Summer Seminar, and recipient of naval scholarships. He was the recipient of a Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship for Service, which provides support for students pursuing education in STEM fields and aims to increase interest in working for the DoD.
Brandon Gipson in Harrison Square. Photo by Rob Felt
One of the things Gipson will miss the most about Tech, though, is his peers’ creative expression.
“I love seeing people create things,” he said. “The creativity and arts on campus, and arts and music in Atlanta, you can’t get that just anywhere.”