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Doing Good with Miriam Oke: Representing the Voices of UMD Students

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Miriam Oke

The following is an interview led by Do Good communications intern Emilie Miranda in conversation with Miriam Oke, former Do Good Ambassador, who was selected as the University of Maryland, College Park nominee for Student Regent for the University System of Maryland. Originally from New York, Oke is a junior majoring in finance with a minor in nonprofit leadership and social innovation. During her time at the University of Maryland, Oke has served as the public leadership representative for the College Park Scholars’ Student Advisory Board, co-chair of the Women’s Empowerment Institute, a student facilitator for Real Talk, the director of finance for the National Association of Black Accountants, a council member of the Diversity Equity Council, and an orientation advisor for The Office of Student Orientation. Oke is passionate about helping University of Maryland students succeed and creating equitable opportunities for all.

Tell me a bit about yourself… Where are you from? What brought you to the University of Maryland?

I'm originally from New York but I have moved over fifteen times in my life, so the home I've always claimed is Brooklyn since I was born and half-raised there. So when it came to applying for college, you can imagine that staying in New York wasn't where my heart was anymore. When I was researching schools, I fell in love with the University of Maryland because of its amazing alumni network. When you move a lot, you tend to lose really good connections that you'd hope to keep, but what made Maryland stand out is their priority to keep the connections with graduated Terps. With that said, I decided to study finance at Robert H. Smith School of Business as well as pursue a minor in Nonprofit Leadership and Social Innovation

Can you tell me a bit more about your minor?

Last year, I served as a Do Good Ambassador, which was really cool. I really enjoyed watching people, whether they were Impact Interns, Mini-Grant recipients or Accelerator Fellows, and seeing what Do Good was all about. I got to learn a lot of really cool things, especially about social impact, social justice and creating equitable environments — that's where a lot of my causes are at the forefront of. I attended one of Do Good’s community nights where they shared information about the minor, and I thought — I’m gonna do it. I'm also in the Public Leadership Scholars Program, led by Professor Susannah Washburn, who created the minor and encouraged me to apply. Last semester, I took PLCY213 with Professor Ebonie Cooper-Jean, which talked about the foundations of nonprofit leadership and innovation. It's been a really fantastic class because it allows you to explore the different aspects of social change on campus and in general. It shifts our focus to make sure we are creating spaces where everyone can have opportunities. 

You're involved with many organizations on campus…What issues or causes do you tackle through these organizations? Why are you passionate about these causes?

I currently serve as the co-chair of the Women's Empowerment Institute (WEI). WEI seeks to directly serve marginalized communities within Smith [School of Business], specifically Black and Latina women. We bring them together for professional development opportunities where they can network and build community with one another. I also serve on the Diversity Equity Council which serves the entirety of Smith. We work with undergraduates, graduate students and Ph.D. candidates to create a diverse, equitable environment for everyone. Lastly, I serve on the University Career Centers Ideas Board, which is a diversity, equity, inclusion student advisory board. We focus on providing a student voice to specific challenges faced by Black and other diverse students in their job and career search, while also aiming to bridge the professionalism gap. Anywhere I go, I try to look at things from an equitable mindset, especially when it comes to secondary education. If anyone is pursuing college, there's no reason as to why you can't be presented the same opportunities as anyone else.

When you see the impact you make, whether it's one student or a hundred students, it makes all the difference in the world.
Miriam Oke Former Do Good Ambassador

You've been selected as the College Park nominee for Student Regent to the University System of Maryland's Student Council. That's an incredible honor and showcases your desire to make change for students throughout Maryland. If selected to serve as the Student Regent, what do you hope to achieve?

There are three main things I hope to focus on if I am selected as the next Student Regent. I hope to bridge the increased hardships of the transitional gap for first-year students from high school to college as a result of the pandemic, increase financial literacy across all institutions, and focus on the affordability of pursuing higher education. As someone who works closely with students from all walks of life, especially first-year students, these are some of the pressing issues that I have borne witness to. Furthermore, recently there has been a shift in the nation concerning fewer students enrolling in college, and an increased number of students dropping out of college when they get there, so if I am selected for this position, my hope is that through these main goals the admission and retention of students would increase. 

Through this role, you would have the opportunity to represent the voices of all University of Maryland students. Are there any issues in particular on campus that you want to bring attention to? What would you want to improve on campus and across the University System of Maryland communities?

If I was elected into that position, I recognize that there's only one or two student regents every two years. I hope to create a kind of coalition where I'd work with every University's nominee on a board and present issues to them. I would seek to work with these leaders across the University System of Maryland as well as hopefully create a similar coalition of College Park students across all majors. 

There are 12 schools and colleges [at UMD]. My hope is to work alongside representatives from architecture, the iSchool, or ARHU to make sure I'm getting the full picture. So this committee would essentially be focused on offering input and advice on issues they would like to tackle that are seen across College Park's campus

What skills or experiences do you think will help you serve the UMD community as Student Regent?

I have had a lot of experience on advisory boards, stretching all the way back to high school. Being involved with various boards has truly impacted me by expanding the lenses of how I view things and the intentionality and why behind them as well. From these positions, I can earnestly say that I have gained so much knowledge about the way different individuals may see and combat the same issue. Furthermore, I would say the major lesson that I have been lucky enough to learn is that in most cases, people always want to work together for the greater good, but it’s the small details of how they want to get there that become the differentiation. In my own opinion, receiving this lesson meant the world to me because it altered how I approach dissimilar opinions and navigate solutions, which can be further tied back to enhancing my teamwork skills. The final thing I can say that I have learned in these roles is the importance of defining your intentionality behind certain goals or what you want to accomplish. Doing this not only provides a foundation for the change you want to see but serves as a guideline to ensure that what you're doing tailors to overall objectives. Knowing what I know now, I believe that all of these experiences will aid me in this position if I am selected to serve. 

So what would you say to students who don't feel that they can make a difference in their daily lives while in college?

”No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” - M. Lucado 

It is a really important quote because I feel like as long as you're actively working toward a greater good, you are doing something to help. And that's across the board with any problem that you may see today with anti-racism, equity, mental health issues, first generation disparities, etc. I know that when combating these issues, a lot of student leaders become discouraged or just unmotivated or burnt out, but when you see the impact you make, whether it's one student or a hundred students, it makes all the difference in the world. So I would say just keep fighting for what you believe is right, and I hope people join you along the way to help the cause.

What keeps you motivated to make a positive difference?

The communities I surround myself with keep me motivated in everything I do. One of the main communities I tend to see a difference in would be WEI since people who have interacted with our organization usually come back to tell us what they learned. Furthermore, my orientation kids, just seeing the impact that I've gotten to make so far and how they still want to interact with me is another thing that really gets me motivated, alongside my personal beliefs. Hearing how others are doing and knowing that I may serve as an inspiration for them to make a difference, or even just knowing that they're doing well, is what pushes me forward.

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