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Two students named Oxfam America Change Leaders

May 23, 2016 - BOSTON, MA. - Taj Akinbode, SSH'17, and Peyton Perry, E'20, pose for a portrait at Northeastern University on May 23, 2016. The two students have been selected to be part of Oxfam America's Change Initiative. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Two Northeastern University students have been named to Oxfam America’s Change Initiative, a program aimed at furthering the humanitarian organization’s mission to right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, and social injustice through campus projects and programs.

Peyton Perry and Taj Akinbode will spend the 2016-17 academic year working as Change Leaders to raise awareness of these issues among the Northeastern community, harnessing their passion for humanitarian work and social change to spearhead special events for students, faculty, and staff.

Perry, E’20, and Akinbode, SSH’17, were two of only 26 college students nationwide to be selected for the program. As humanitarians with hundreds of hours of community service work under their belts, they are prepared to tackle the challenges ahead. Perry currently volunteers for Jumpstart, an AmeriCorps program that trains college students to mentor preschool-aged children. During the academic year, she works with kids at the Parker Hill-Fenway Head Start program in Boston’s Mission Hill neighborhood, helping them improve their literacy and communication skills.

Akinbode’s resumé reads like the curriculum vitae of the quintessential altruist, a who’s who of campus and community organizations: He’s currently the community service coordinator of Northeastern’s Islamic Society and the director of operations and strategy for Africans in Boston; in the past, he’s served as an organizing member of the fifth annual Mil­len­nium Campus Con­fer­ence and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity to rebuild homes that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

May 23, 2016 - BOSTON, MA. - Taj Akinbode, SSH'17, and Peyton Perry, E'20, pose for a portrait at Northeastern University on May 23, 2016. The two students have been selected to be part of Oxfam America's Change Initiative. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“I want to be a force for good for Northeastern, my community, and the world as a whole,” said Akinbode, reflecting on his reasons for wanting to be part of the Change Initiative. “I am familiar with many of the societal ills that Oxfam works to improve and I am excited to help bring the organization’s mission to the university.” Noted Perry: “As a change leader, I hope to open the eyes of the Northeastern community to humanitarian issues that many of us are so often blind to.”

Community building

Both students bring a unique set of qualifications to the Change Initiative, personal and academic experiences that make them stand out among their peers in the program. Perry is a second-year bioengineering major, one of the only participants to study hard science. She wants to go to medical school with an eye toward working for Doctors Without Borders, a lofty goal that dovetails with her passion for community service and her keen interest in Oxfam America. “When I was younger, my family wasn’t very well off, and I got to see how volunteers helped to improve my life through small acts of kindness,” said Perry, who grew up in Norwich, Connecticut. “Now I really enjoy helping others.”

Yelana Loiselle, Perry’s Jumpstart supervisor, believes that the young humanitarian’s teamwork skills, organizational acumen, and commitment to service will make her an invaluable member of the Change Initiative. “In addition to being mature and responsible,” Loiselle wrote in her letter of recommendation to Oxfam, “she has also helped to create a positive team and classroom culture by developing relationships with her teammates, children she served, classroom teachers, and the parents of Jumpstart children.”

Akinbode grew up in Nigeria, where he witnessed the scourge of poverty firsthand. He wants to parlay his personal experience—as well as his intellectual curiosity as a fourth-year economics and international affairs combined major—into a career in international development. The way he sees it, working as a change leader will bring him one step closer to achieving his professional goals. As he put it, “I have deliberately shaped my engagement both on and off campus to reflect my deep-rooted desires to advance issues related to economic development, poverty, and social injustice. I am convinced that the experience I will gain as a change leader will help me impact society beyond Northeastern.”

Richard Wamai, assistant professor of African American Studies, has served as Akinbode’s mentor since the spring of 2013, when the student worked to establish the Northeastern University Colloquium on Africa. He said Akinbode is a well-rounded student with a passion for learning, leadership, and social change, a determined scholar with a strong plan for lifelong success. As he explained, “He has worked diligently to prepare himself for this type of leadership opportunity, his values align with Oxfam’s mission, and his participation in the Change Initiative will positively impact his career journey in the long run.”

The program will not begin in earnest until this fall, but all 26 of the young humanitarians will be meeting in Boston in July to participate in leadership and team-building activities. For Perry, the training session represents an opportunity to get to know her new peers, to talk shop and social change. “I hope to bounce ideas off my fellow change leaders and get inspired by their reasons for taking part in this initiative,” she said.

Akinbode noted that Northeastern’s commitment to diversity and inclusion will serve him well as he integrates himself into yet another new community: “We will have to work with people from all different cultures and backgrounds,” he said, “and being part of a diverse community has given me the skills needed to build bridges and make connections.”

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