Moving from a city of 6 million people to a college town of about 25,000 would probably be a bit of culture shock for anyone. So, it makes sense that one of the first thoughts that Asishana Amunega-Ajayi had when he travelled to Starkville for the first time was “what have I gotten myself into.”
A senior majoring in aerospace engineering, Ajayi’s first trip to the United States took him from his hometown of Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, to France and on to Atlanta. But then Ajayi boarded the small jet from Atlanta to Golden Triangle Regional Airport.
“I had never been on a plane that small before,” Ajayi said. “My head was touching the ceiling and they moved us around to make sure the plane was balanced. After we got to GTR, I fell asleep on the way to Starkville and when I woke up, all I saw were pastures and cows. I thought maybe I should have researched a little more. But once we got to State, I said ‘okay, I can do this’.”
In an effort to learn more about American culture, Ajayi wasted little time jumping into campus life. He has served as a resident advisor for Housing & Resident Life and is currently a community assistant at College View. He was an Involvement Ambassador and served as the academic excellence chairperson for the National Society of Black Engineers. And he was elected as vice president of the African Student Association.
Ajayi was the first African student to pledge Omega Psi Phi Fraternity at MSU, rising to the position of Basileus (president). He also serves as the second vice state representative for all Omega Psi Phi chapters in Mississippi. And through his fraternity brothers, he learned about perhaps one of the most fundamental parts of life in a college town: tailgating.
“I didn’t really understand American football and I’d never heard of tailgating,” Ajayi said. “But my fraternity tailgates so I learned about it through them. It’s pretty cool.”
Not just a student
In addition to learning about American culture, Ajayi has also spent time teaching people about his own culture. He speaks four languages and can understand five or six. His full name is Asishana Amunega-Ajayi Oluwabamidele Ezekiel Ejiro-Ogene Kingsley, the length of which was determined partly by his native tribe and by his large family.
“I used to get upset when people would ask off-the-wall and uneducated questions,” Ajayi said. “But I realized people here don’t necessarily see the developed and urban parts of Africa. And I figured it was easier to educate than to hate.
“I joined all these organizations, started going to panel discussions, things like that,” he added. “I feel like I’ve tried to better represent my culture and let people know about the similarities between the countries. And people are usually receptive. You can tell when someone asks a question because they want to learn and when they’re asking to be demeaning.”
With graduation from Mississippi State’s Bagley College of Engineering fast approaching, Ajayi has his sights firmly set on graduate school. He’s considering several options, including staying at State to pursue a master’s in industrial engineering. After that’s done, he plans to join the workforce before eventually earning a Ph.D.
But in that, he’d simply be carrying on a family tradition. “Both of my parents have several degrees, and both have doctorate degrees, so not doing well in school isn’t an option” Amunega-Ajayi said with a chuckle.