By Dave Block ’93

Basit Balogun '21 stands on a rock overlooking trees and a body of water.A computer science major, Basit Balogun ’21 lived in Nigeria until moving to New York at age 16 to continue his high school education.

 

What do you miss most about Nigeria?

I miss my mum a lot, but I am extremely glad that technology has made it possible to remain connected with her even though we are thousands of miles apart. I also really, really miss authentic Nigerian food, and nothing has been able to alleviate it. I always had access to really good Nigerian food, and I don’t just mean Nigeria Jollof (rice) because that is the only Nigerian food that is widely available in the U.S. I would have considered all the meals I eat now absolute junk when I was in Nigeria.

What do you like about American culture?

One thing that I really like about being in the United States is the vacation culture, and though it lags behind Europe’s, I have really enjoyed how people take the gas off the pedal during the summer to relax and enjoy their lives. For me, these vacations have meant going to a different state with friends for a week to refresh my brain and energy. Coming from an African home with no concept of the summer, being in a culture that supports these breaks has been invigorating.

What was it like doing remote learning for the second half of the semester?

Remote had some benefits and drawbacks, but I would say the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. Remote learning made it really convenient to attend classes, but at the same time, it was just really challenging to remain focused and attentive in the virtual environment. The ability to have only a digital presence (sometimes without both voice and audio) made it difficult for professors to keep students engaged in class. Even beyond academia, not having the same social culture and being stuck in a room except for a few trips to Farinon made it really difficult for me to feel like a student. I personally found it very challenging to remain connected with the Lafayette community and felt overwhelmed with the hundreds of unstructured emails feeding us with information on how to remain engaged in class and in the extended Lafayette community. Overall remote learning stripped away all the aspects of the Lafayette education that I love and left me with a shell that gave me a glimpse of what my life would have been like if I was not in a prestigious higher ed institution like Lafayette.

While the circumstances for the second half of the semester were difficult, what positives did you discover in the situation?

Remaining engrossed in my classes and consuming this material posed a huge challenge on my ability to learn from myself, but after the first two weeks, I began seeing it as an opportunity to restructure myself and really focus on the skillsets and experiences I believe would provide maximum value, especially after graduation. I took advantage of the pass/fail and focused more attention on my Machine Learning and Data Science class. I was also able to spend a lot of time on a business pitch which my team was fortunate enough to win. The situation also allowed me to build relationships with some really amazing people on Lafayette’s campus, which might not have been possible due to the stark difference in the circles we find ourselves on Lafayette during a regular semester.

What were your favorite two classes last school year?

My favorite classes for the fall and spring semester were Computer Organization and Intro to Machine Learning, respectively. Computer Organization because it was the most challenging class I have ever taken in my college career. I was genuinely worried that I was going to fail the class after failing the first lab exam with a 32. The class focused on how computers work at a very low level. Due to the high level of rigor, this class taught me to be comfortable with the unknown while also improving my ability to learn beyond the borders of the classroom. I ended up doing really well in the class, but what I really loved about this class was its ability to push me to learn how to learn, which I believe is the most useful toolkit anyone can have.

For my machine learning class, I was in love with it even before I took the class. Machine learning has gained a lot of momentum over the past couple of years due to the way it revolutionizes the way we solve and automate problems, and I was excited that it was being offered at Lafayette. Being able to build systems that can learn in a way similar to how the human brain learns really fascinated me, and the opportunity to acquire the skills to do this is something I really value. Beyond the value of the class topic itself, my professor was able to break down each aspect of the course material into bits that made it a lot easier to comprehend and fully understand. I am most proud of my final project where my team developed a machine-learning algorithm that could differentiate between rainy and clear weather from street cameras.

Who's a professor who's made a big impact on you?

Professor Chun Wai Liew of the computer science department. I had heard tales and had multiple encounters with him before taking his class. He is known for leaving students with no choice but to learn the majority of the material by themselves, and as someone who took his class, you either challenge yourself by learning on your own or fail the class. This method might not have worked for a lot of people, but it honestly did for me. After failing my first exam in his class, I began to realize that the world would never map out a plan for me, and I needed to be comfortable and ready to make a decision even when put in situations I am not familiar with. This has been very critical for me, and I have found myself engaging more in self-taught experiences and skills.

Who's a staff member who's had a big impact on you?

Alana Albus has had a tremendous impact on me since I met her during my freshman year. As an undocumented student, it was extremely challenging to navigate and explore different career opportunities. Alana always provided herself as a resource in ways that extend beyond her role. She always motivated and encouraged me in a situation where I felt like there was no hope. Even after figuring out a way to receive a work permit, Alana was integral in helping me negotiate with companies to ensure that I was taking my skill to the best-fit company.

What was the highlight of the school year for you?

Definitely winning at the business pitch competition for so many reasons. Last year I tried to compete in the same competition, but my team did not make the final cut. I knew I had to come back stronger this year, and I started working on the idea since the summer of 2019 to ensure that I was well prepared for this year’s competition. Even with all the preparation, I was aware of the highly qualified competition my team would be going against, a lot of whom I have high regard for. Receiving the viewer’s choice award above all other highly qualified candidates made all the hard work totally work it. What was most special was the fact that this was the first time my family in Nigeria and France were able to watch me in my element.

What made you interested in applying to join the upcoming international first-year student orientation team?

I have always wanted to join because I felt it was the ideal environment to connect with people like myself who find themselves in unfamiliar territory. I have always wanted to help these students acclimate to their new environment the same way others did for me, albeit in a different environment.

What's your job for Gateway?

I held an unofficial role as a Gateway ambassador this school year, and I will be joining them officially next year. Most of my work with Gateway this year was using my position as the director of academic affairs on Student Government to further improve and connect students to the tremendous resources available. We realized there was a disconnect between students and these resources, and though I will no longer be on Student Government, reducing this gap is at the top of my agenda, which is why I will be joining Gateway as an ambassador next school year.

What stands out about what you observed while serving on the Board of Trustees Committee on Financial Policy?

I was definitely surprised at the level of detail and modeling it took to ensure that the school continues to remain in good financial standing. It was very interesting to see how the committee found the right balance between different aspects of the school such as financial aid, athletics, faculty, etc.

What will you be doing at Goldman Sachs this summer?

I will be an engineering analyst in their securities division. I am sure you do not know what that means, but guess what? Neither do I! I am aware of what the division does on a basic level, but to be honest, I am not even sure my manager knows exactly what I would be doing this summer.

How were you able to get this opportunity?

Honestly, everything just fell in place at the right time. My journey started from the day I became a Posse Scholar for Lafayette College. The Posse Foundation provided me with a career coach and various career workshops that gave me a better picture of where I saw myself post-college. Though I was not able to work, I have always been career-oriented, and thus I was always engaged with career programs offered by Posse and Gateway Career Center such as externships, career tracks, panels, mentorship, etc. During my sophomore year, fellow Posse Scholar Keon Modeste introduced me to a program called SEO (Sponsor for Educational Opportunity), which provided immense career support to underrepresented students like myself. I did not take advantage of this amazing opportunity in my sophomore year because I knew I would not be able to pursue these opportunities as an undocumented student. Regardless, I knew having an internship as a sophomore would make it easier to secure opportunities as a junior, and I was not going to let being undocumented stop me. I began networking my way through Linkedln, career fairs, an externship, and virtually every possible platform that would allow me to connect with people. Networking was critical for me because I needed someone who would be willing to provide me an internship even with my unique situation, albeit without pay. Fortunately, I was able to secure an opportunity with Lafayette alumni during the summer of my sophomore year. It is also important to note that I had worked on a project either independently or with peers every break since I came to Lafayette.

After the summer of 2019, I had hope that I would be getting my work permit by the summer of 2020, and as a junior, I knew this was my last time to secure an internship that would lead to a full-time role. I applied to the SEO program and took advantage of the Posse career portal. Both organizations gave access to prestigious companies such as Google, Bloomberg, Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal, and Goldman Sachs in addition to over 100 hours of career coaching. Even with all this support, I continued to practice coding challenges and networking with individuals from these companies, and after tens of interviews and rejection, some of which I lost because the companies were not willing to wait for my work permit, I was able to secure an opportunity at Goldman Sachs amongst some other prestigious companies. It is important to note that though preparedness is key, getting accepted to an internship has a lot of luck to it too. I was rejected by a sizable number of companies that would be considered to have lower prestige than Goldman Sachs.

What value does this job have for you?

As a computer science major with a huge interest in finance and entrepreneurship, my role at Goldman Sachs gives me the perfect opportunity to purse all of my interests while providing me with the branding and network needed to pursue my passion for entrepreneurship.

Why makes you a networking pro?

Hahaha. Throughout my life, I had never had anything handed to me on a platter of gold. I always had to work extremely hard for everything I earned, and I slowly realized that the best way to reduce this immense load was to connect with people around you. Though I love the word “networking”, I think the right term would be “collaborative spirit”, which I believe is my greatest strength. I say that because networking to me is not just talking to people for personal gain or benefit. It is also about giving back, and more importantly, extending the resources you have available to some who might not have those resources because I strongly believe the best way to attain success is to build a network of people with diverse backgrounds, skillset, and level of proficiency. This should explain why I “network” with alumni and industry folks at the equivalent level as I do with my peers or people who might not provide any direct value to me. Beyond the benefits, I genuinely enjoy connecting with different people and understanding the effect their background has had on their narrative and the best way to achieve this is to connect with as many people as possible.

How else will you be spending your time this summer?

I will be exploring ways to bring my business idea to life. I am also reviewing my machine learning class material to refresh my knowledge as I believe it will provide great value in the future. I am also currently hosting coding practice sessions for peers four to five times a week to improve our ability to pass coding interviews. I am also taking a number of classes to learn new software development stacks. Finally, I will be researching ways to further help students, with a focus on students of color in technology, to understand ways they can use their background to contribute to the global tech landscape. This is being funding by the Carolynn Van Dyke prize.  I try not to do any work after 6 p.m., so I will probably be playing soccer, hiking, playing video games, and working out amongst other relaxing activities. I also plan on going skydiving this summer.

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