Midtown Manhattan: where skyscrapers loom large, business booms and tourists from around the world flock to experience a taste of the Big Apple. But hop the F train and ride north to the end of the line, and you’ll soon find yourself in Jamaica, Queens.
Far from the glitz of Rockefeller Center, Jamaica is a working-class neighborhood where families exist against a backdrop of grittier urban reality. It’s a community with clear challenges, yet it maintains a proud core, embodying the hustle, tenacity and perseverance for which New York City is known.
It’s the place that second-year University of Virginia student Abiola Ogunkoya calls home.
A first-generation American and first-generation college student, Ogunkoya grew up in Jamaica in a household with her mother and younger sister. Her mother, a hard-working teacher who believed in the importance of education, saw to it that her daughters committed to their studies. Throughout high school, Ogunkoya got excellent grades. When it was time to consider colleges, she was confident in her academic achievements, but worried about her family’s ability to afford the tuition.
Ogunkoya heard about UVA through a program, Hoos First Look, that allows high school students to visit Grounds and stay overnight with current undergraduates. She jumped at the chance and was impressed by the warm welcome she received from the community. After visiting a handful of other times, she decided she loved the University, applied for early action admission, and was accepted.
Shortly thereafter, Ogunkoya was thrilled to discover that she’d been awarded the prestigious Blue Ridge Scholarship, established in 2014 by Board of Visitors member John Griffin, a McIntire School of Commerce alumnus, to support students with exceptional academic promise and significant financial need.
“I was so grateful and honored for being chosen,” Ogunkoya said. “Without it, I wouldn’t have had a future at UVA. Now I can focus on my academics and extracurricular activities without having to stress about financials.”
Spend any time with Ogunkoya, and it’s clear that she has a deep appreciation for the role that community plays in a person’s success. Like those who’ve helped her, she’s committed to providing people with the skills they need to succeed.
Since arriving on Grounds, the second-year student has logged serious hours as a Madison House volunteer, leading a local effort to teach citizens how to create résumés and apply for jobs. She’s also a member of the Second Year Council, as well as an intern with the Charlottesville-based Ron Brown Scholar Program, an organization that provides academic resources to underserved black youth.
“I want to help others like myself,” she said. “Information tends to miss certain populations – especially first-generation college students. I want people to have as much information as possible so they can get where they need to go.”
Ogunkoya intends to major in commerce and hopes to one day channel her talents into building a more equitable community in her Queens hometown. With a knack for real estate, as well as connecting people to academic and professional opportunities, she envisions a future where the residents of Jamaica work together to lift each other up.
For now, she’s enjoying life as a college student.
“I’m so happy to be at UVA,” she said. “This place inspires me to be my best in every endeavor. It’s a good model for the rest of my life.”
For information about the Blue Ridge Scholars program, contact Adam Fentress at 434-529-7193 or firstname.lastname@example.org.