“I’ve seen poverty,” says Kerry Omughelli ’13, “and I’ve seen a lot of good things, too.”
As a native of Lagos, Nigeria, who spent time growing up in England, Kerry is all too aware of the disparities between countries. As a matter of fact, those disparities inspired him to become what he is today.
“One thing that always hit me was electricity,” he recalls. “In England, it was constant. In Nigeria, it was never really there. So I said, ‘I’ll do electrical engineering.’ I want to focus in power, then energy, because Nigeria has a lot of oil but no refineries, no means to actually use it. I want to make a difference—both as an engineer and a leader—in the lives of people in general, in the lives of African Americans living in this country, and in the lives of Africans in the world.”
Plan A was to study electrical engineering in England. Thanks to a friend who enrolled at Texas A&M University a semester before him, Kerry changed his mind, applying to both Texas A&M “and that other school” in Austin. Not without reservations, however.
“I didn’t know much about Texas,” he admits with a grin. “All I knew was cowboys and horses, and I didn’t think that would sit very well with me. Then, my first day on campus, the first five people I met were, like, ‘Howdy! Howdy!’ And I realized it was very friendly here. So now I love Texas!”
Aggie friendliness notwithstanding, Kerry’s freshman year was a challenge.
“I adjust very quickly,” he says. “Because I grew up in two different places, I’m adaptable and open to different cultures. But it was difficult here, because I didn’t get to see my mom, dad, and three sisters.” Something as simple as a phone call home can be tricky, what with widely divergent time zones. Then there was the educational system itself. “That was different for me, because it wasn’t ‘wait until we get to the end to see how much you know.’ We were tested as we went along. I was a high achiever in high school—made the 4.0s—so I thought it would be a natural transition, but it wasn’t.”
Kerry credits his ability to adapt and succeed to a couple things. One, he lived on campus. He spent his freshman year in the engineering hall, Mosher, where he was able to meet other engineering students, Aggies who knew the value of helping one another out. His sophomore and junior years, he served as an RA in Aston.
“The halls on campus really integrate you, because you get to meet people very quickly. It’s like a family, ”he explains. ““Living on campus is how I got into the traditions, how I got involved.
One of the places he got involved was the Southwestern Black Student Leadership Conference (SBSLC). SBSLC not only helped him adapt and succeed, he says, it pretty much changed his life.
It all started with a walk through the Commons, a table, and a challenge.
“I passed their table, and they told me I should attend the conference. ‘I’m a leader,’ I thought, ‘I’ve been doing a lot of stuff. I don’t need to attend this conference.’” Kerry smiles as he remembers. “They said, ‘You think so? How about becoming one of our associate staff, and we’ll see what you’re made of?’”
He took them up on it. And was blown away. So much so, that he decided against the usual transition from associate to executive staff, choosing instead to serve on associate staff one more year. This year, Kerry is Chair of the SBSLC and one of its biggest boosters.
“SBSLC basically helps you become a professional,” he says, “a student leader. It teaches you how to speak, how to talk to people, how to dress. Helps you discover yourself. People who graduated high school, what, two years ago? They’re handling contracts worth thousands of dollars. That’s what SBSLC does for you.”
With all he’s accomplished academically and as a student leader, you may be surprised to hear that Kerry Omughelli will be just 21 years old when he graduates next December. (He graduated high school at age 16.) Here’s what he has to say about that:
“I tell my close friends, ‘You can achieve anything you want to, if you put your mind to it. One person can make a difference.’ I’m really passionate about educating young leaders all around the country. Letting them know, ‘You can make that difference you’re looking to see.’ I want to inspire people. That’s what I want to do.”
In addition to his involvement with SBSLC, Kerry is also a member of the Eta Kappa Nu Electrical & Computer Honor Society, the Kappa Theta Epsilon Cooperative Education Honor Society, the Institute of Electrical Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and the African Students Organization—“because I believe it’s important to keep my roots by interacting with all the Africans as much as possible and letting them help me remember my country.” This past January, Kerry won The Association of Former Students’ Buck Weirus Award.
The SBSLC, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this January, is a conference for college students run by college students. For more information, or to register for the 2013 conference (January 17th—20th), please visit http://sbslc.tamu.edu/about.
Kathy DiSanto, Communications Specialist
Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs
Chris Weachock, ‘12