Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas

Tommie Award Finalist: Nkechukwu Akpati '23

Tommie Award finalist and psychology major Nkechukwu Akpati '23 has stayed busy during his time at St. Thomas, juggling a number of leadership and community building roles. He's president of the Black Empowerment Student Alliance, serves as a resident advisor, produces his own podcast, and received the inaugural Good Trouble Legacy Scholarship.

The Newsroom recently caught up with Akpati and asked him about everything from his favorite podcasts, creating a sense of belonging for his residents, and plans after graduation. Here are the highlights.

The final Tommie Award vote takes place Feb. 8-10.

Nkechukwu Akpati '23 (Nick Reichert/University of St. Thomas)

What are you most proud of from your time at St. Thomas?

Interning in the U.S. Capitol during the summer as a journalist without any formal journalism education. Entering the field starry-eyed, intrigued and determined is not a new thing for me but being in a space that forces growth or face falling behind your peers was my favorite part of my experience out East.

You’re the president of the Black Empowerment Student Alliance (BESA). What has that group meant to you?

Black Empowerment Student Alliance was a godsend for my collegiate career due to its ability to curate a safe haven of Blackness in a predominantly white institution (PWI) without the feeling of commercialization of Blackness as most PWIs tend to do. As I talk with fellow members of BESA, a fear of some of the students is the commercialization of identity. I can personally relate because lip service and genuine change at times look the same, but in reality, the difference is blatant when the individuals used for profit or a "look" speak on their experience. As the president of BESA being able to facilitate change brings me peace.

You were the first winner of the Good Trouble Legacy Scholarship – conceived in honor of George Floyd and U.S. Rep. John Lewis. What has it been like representing their legacy on campus?

This is an interesting question because there is a statue in the House side of the U.S. Capitol that I would have to walk past every single day before I would go to my desk. In his famous good trouble quote, he says, "Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble." What I took away from the quote is that there is suffering a good person must endure, but the great person must reduce the suffering of those that come after, and in my four years at St. Thomas, I have slightly accomplished that, but there is still more to go.

As a resident advisor, what have you learned about creating welcoming environments for students to thrive at St. Thomas?

The antidote to some is the poison to others. I have been a resident advisor to nearly 250 students from different backgrounds and social ideologies. What is enjoyable to one student could be absolutely terrifying to another. I have to create a place where stepping out of their comfort zone is encouraged and the preferred course of action because, in my own experience, college is one of the few places where expanding your comfort zone has little to no consequences.

What advice do you have for others who want to become student leaders at St. Thomas?

I do not know who told me this, but people who want to be leaders tend to believe they can do a better job than those who came before; my advice is that this is your opportunity to make that happen. Stop just talking about it. You showed the initiative to make great things happen and believe in yourself like those around you.

You have your own podcast – what podcasts do you like to listen to on your own time?

"Flagrant," "No Jumper," "Undisputed," "Club Shay Shay," "Huberman Lab"

If you could have dinner with one famous person, who would it be and why?

I would definitely pick SZA. She is a must, not even for her fame or anything of that nature, but more for her recent album about love, self-doubt, and power articulating the ideas in completion. There's only so much information a person can take in from music, and I think there is a well of an idea that can come from her.

What are your plans for after graduation?

My plans post-graduation are not concrete, but I am looking down two paths: continuing my education, attending grad school at the University of St. Thomas, or continuing journalism work on the East Coast or down South.