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Princeton’s First Black Valedictorian

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Nicholas Johnson, an operations research and financial engineering concentrator from Montreal, has been named valedictorian of Princeton’s Class of 2020.

Johnson is the first black valedictorian in Princeton’s history.

He said he appreciates the encouragement he has received at Princeton in developing his academic interests. The University’s support through opportunities including international internships and cultural immersion trips to Peru, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom were especially significant, Johnson said. But most of all, he treasures his relationships with his classmates.

“My favorite memories of my time at Princeton are memories of time spent with close friends and classmates engaging in stimulating discussions — often late at night — about our beliefs, the cultures and environments in which we were raised, the state of the world, and how we plan on contributing positively to it in our own unique way,” Johnson said.

Johnson plans to spend this summer interning as a hybrid quantitative researcher and software developer at the D. E. Shaw Group before beginning Ph.D. studies in operations research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in fall 2020.

Along with his concentration in operations research and financial engineering, he is pursuing certificates in statistics and machine learningapplied and computational mathematics, and applications of computing.

His research has focused primarily on sequential decision-making under uncertainty, optimization, and the ethical considerations that must be made given the increasing role of algorithmic decision-making systems.

His senior thesis, “Sequential Stochastic Network Structure Optimization with Applications to Addressing Canada’s Obesity Epidemic,” focuses on developing high-performance, efficient algorithms to solve a network-based optimization problem that models a community-based preventative health intervention designed to curb the prevalence of obesity in Canada.

This work, supervised by Miklos Racz, assistant professor of operations research and financial engineering, also has applications to public health interventions designed to increase adherence to strict social distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Johnson has another ongoing research project supervised by Yacine Ait-Sahalia, the Otto A. Hack ’03 Professor of Finance and professor of economics, in which he is developing a reinforcement learning agent to execute large financial trade orders with minimal market distortion.

During his junior year, Johnson conducted an independent research project, “Generating Privacy Preserving Synthetic Datasets,” supervised by Prateek Mittal, associate professor of electrical engineering, in which he developed a machine learning system to more robustly anonymize datasets than existing alternatives. He presented this work at the spring 2019 Electrical Engineering Symposium and the 2019 Center for Statistics and Machine Learning Symposium.

Among his other professors, William Massey, the Edwin S. Wilsey Professor of Operations Research and Financial Engineering, and Dannelle Gutarra Cordero, a lecturer in African American studies, were also influential.

“Professor Massey inspired me by sharing his ever-present love for operations research and through his advocacy for black and African American students in STEM fields,” Johnson said. “He encouraged me to pursue increasingly ambitious research projects and to share my work at academic conferences. Professor Gutarra introduced me to academic writing during my first-year Writing Seminar. She was instrumental in helping me develop my skills as an effective academic writer and communicator, and she motivated me to become a writing fellow.”

In addition to serving as a writing fellow at Princeton’s Writing Center, Johnson is editor of Tortoise: A Journal of Writing Pedagogy. He is a member of Whitman College, where he has served as a residential college adviser. He is also a member of the Princeton chapter of Engineers Without Borders and served as its co-president in 2018.

As a rising senior, Johnson worked as a software engineer in machine learning at Google’s California headquarters.

He previously interned at Oxford University’s Integrative Computational Biology and Machine Learning Group, developing and implementing a novel optimization technique under the supervision of Aleksandr Sahakyan, principal investigator and group head. He presented the project at Princeton’s inaugural Day of Optimization in October 2018 and at the 25th Conference of African American Researchers in the Mathematical Sciences in June 2019, where his project was recognized with the Angela E. Grant Poster Award for Best Modeling.

Johnson has interned at Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, and he participated in Whitman’s exchange program with Morningside College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in March 2017.

Among his academic honors, Johnson is a recipient of the Class of 1883 English Prize for Freshmen in the School of Engineering, a two-time recipient of the Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence, and co-recipient with Sommers of the Class of 1939 Princeton Scholar Award. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in fall 2019 and to Tau Beta Pi in 2018, where he served as president of the Princeton Chapter in 2019.

Johnson is a graduate of Selwyn House School and attended Marianopolis College, both in Westmount, Quebec.

By Denise Valente, Princeton University, Office of Communications

Photo by Lisa Festa, Center for Career Development

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Tom Joyner Foundation and BetMGM Offer Executive Series to HBCU Students

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The Tom Joyner Foundation, a driving force behind scholarship distribution and fundraising for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and BetMGM, a leading sports betting and iGaming operator, are partnering to offer an Executive Series to HBCUs nationwide beginning this Fall. The partnership will offer HBCU students the opportunity to network with BetMGM executives and navigate the recruitment process in preparation for career opportunities at the company after graduation. 

“Our goal has been to keep students in school, and it is critical that we ensure their success after graduation through phenomenal partnerships with organizations such as BetMGM,” said Joyner, Founder of The Tom Joyner Foundation.

The Executive Series will consist of executive-student panels, professional resume critiques, and job interview preparation. The workshops will help graduating seniors pursue roles in HR, Finance, Legal, Marketing, Product Design and more.

Adam Greenblatt, Chief Executive Officer, BetMGM said, “We’re proud to partner with The Tom Joyner Foundation in working with HBCU students to help them identify pathways to successful careers. Our goal at BetMGM is to promote equitable candidate experiences and an inclusive working environment.”

HBCU students can find more information and RSVP for the Executive Series on The Tom Joyner Foundation website starting this Fall. Tom Joyner Foundation’s partnership with BetMGM is an extension of the Foundation’s mission to provide career opportunities for students.

About The Tom Joyner Foundation

The Tom Joyner Foundation was founded in 1998 as the brainchild of the former nationally syndicated radio personality, Tom Joyner. The mission of the Foundation is to support historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) with scholarships, endowments, and capacity-building enhancements. The Foundation has provided necessary support to every HBCU in its 20+ year history to help sustain and preserve the legacies of these valuable institutions. Through fundraising and donor development initiatives, over $69 million has been raised to support more than 32,000 students attending HBCUs. Additionally, the Foundation has recommended internships, offered matching grant support, and career development to deserving students.

About BetMGM

BetMGM is a market-leading sports betting and gaming entertainment company, pioneering the online gaming industry. Born out of a partnership between MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM) and Entain Plc (LSE: ENT), BetMGM has exclusive access to all of MGM’s U.S. land-based and online sports betting, major tournament poker, and online gaming businesses. Utilizing Entain’s U.S.-licensed, state of the art technology, BetMGM offers sports betting and online gaming via market-leading brands, including BetMGM, Borgata Casino, Party Casino, and Party Poker. Founded in 2018, BetMGM is headquartered in New Jersey. For more information, visit http://www.betmgminc.com/

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Best Historically Black Colleges & Universities for 2022

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 College Consensus, a unique college ratings website that aggregates publisher rankings and student reviews, has published its ranking of the 50 Best Historically Black Colleges & Universities for 2022.

Established to provide educational opportunities for Black students in the face of segregation and discrimination, Historically Black Colleges and Universities have long served as an equitable and inclusive option for Black students in pursuit of higher education.

“HBCUs are an excellent option for students looking for a culturally relevant academic experience”

“Due to the tragic history of systemic racism in the United States, Black students have long been denied equal opportunity to access higher education,” says College Consensus founder Jeremy Alder. “Fortunately, HBCUs give them this opportunity—and open up the door for many more. They offer greater affordability, post college preparedness, upward mobility, and a diverse and inclusive student experience.”

To determine the 50 Best HBCUs, we combined the results of the most respected college ranking systems with the averaged ratings of thousands of real student reviews from around the web to provide the most comprehensive picture of the HBCU landscape. 

The Top 10 Best Historically Black Colleges & Universities for 2022  are:

  1. Spelman College
  2. Howard University
  3. Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University
  4. West Virginia State University
  5. North Carolina A&T University
  6. Grambling State University
  7. Savannah State University
  8. Southern State University and A&M College
  9. Jackson State University
  10. Norfolk State

Visit the ranking to see the full list of 50 HBCUs.

“HBCUs are an excellent option for students looking for a culturally relevant academic experience,” continues College Consensus founder Jeremy Alder. “And students considering HBCUs should look no further than this list. It’s the most comprehensive ranking of HBCUs out there as it factors in both respected rankings and student reviews.”

In addition to offering an innovative approach to college and graduate school rankings, College Consensus also offers expert advice and guidance on all aspects of college life, from finding the perfect college, to getting accepted, paying for it, applying to and attending graduate school, and finding a professional path after graduation.

This list is a feature of The Consensus’ Annual Rankings. Throughout March and April, College Consensus will be publishing dozens of new college rankings for 2022.

For information on leveraging this award, winners may contact College Consensus’ licensing partner, Wright’s Media, at collegeconsensus@wrightsmedia.com.

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Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.® Continue Giving HBCUs A Financial Boost

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Despite progress and national focus, historically Black colleges and universities across the country still need public support

 For the fourth consecutive year, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated® will earmark on a progressive goal to raise $1 million in 24 hours for their national HBCU Impact Day initiative.  Set for Monday, September 20, 2021, the annual fundraiser is a part of the sorority’s four-year, $10 million commitment to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) led by AKA International President and CEO Dr. Glenda Glover. The organization’s more than 300,000 college-educated members, corporate partners, and donors are challenged to make contributions to assist with the ongoing fiscal sustainability and operations of the more than 100 HBCUs around the country.

Dr. Glover, who is also president of Tennessee State University and an HBCU graduate, says while HBCUs are currently experiencing a renaissance that has brought about a new level of awareness, more must be done for their survival and long-term sustainability.

“The contributions of HBCUs can no longer be overlooked. Just look to the White House or the United States Congress.”Tweet this

“Despite the recent national attention given to HBCUs in 2021 and incremental state and federal funding, HBCUs still lag far behind other institutions of higher education when it comes to ongoing and sustainable support,” adds Dr. Glover. 

In 2021, the sorority gifted $1.6 million to 35 eligible four-year HBCUs.  The endowments on these campuses will grow in perpetuity and help schools reduce student debt through scholarships, fund industry-specific research, and provide much-needed infrastructure maintenance. Those funds are proving to be extremely crucial during the current climate in higher education.

HBCUs continue to be under-funded and now have an added burdened of operational challenges with the impact of the ever evolving COVID-19 pandemic.  

“Now more than ever is the time for Alpha Kappa Alpha to step up, as we have done for more than 113 years, along with our partners and continue our call to action for our historic institutions of higher education,” Glover contends. “The contributions of HBCUs can no longer be overlooked or minimized. Just look to the White House or the United States Congress. HBCUs account for nearly 25% of bachelor’s degrees granted to African Americans. I cannot imagine a world without HBCUs, but I can imagine how much stronger the world would be if we all supported the HBCU community.”

Members and supporters have surpassed the $1 million goal for the past three years. Last year’s Impact Day raised $1.3 million in 2020.

HBCU Impact Day is part of the sorority’s recognition of HBCU Week.  On September 20, chapters around the globe will host fundraising events in support of the $1 million fundraising goal. Interested donors can make contributions by giving by mail or online at http://donate.akaeaf.org during the 24-hour campaign.  For more information on the sorority’s commitment to HBCUs, visit www.AKA1908.com

About Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated®
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated (AKA) is an international service organization that was founded on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1908. It is the oldest Greek-letter organization established by African-American, college-educated women. Alpha Kappa Alpha is comprised of over 300,000 members in more than 1,000 graduate and undergraduate chapters in the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Liberia, Bahamas, Bermuda, the Caribbean, Canada, Japan, Germany, South Korea, South Africa, and in the Middle East. Led by International President and Chief Executive Officer, Glenda Glover Ph.D., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated is often hailed as “America’s premier Greek-letter organization for African-American women.” Visit www.aka1908.com for more information.

About the AKA Educational Advancement Foundation
Over 40 years ago, the Educational Advancement Foundation was established by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. to promote lifelong learning.  It is now the largest minority-owned women’s foundation in the country with assets totaling over $22.7 million.  The foundation has donated over $6.5 million for scholarships, fellowships, and community assistance grants and is an organization with a rich and distinguished history of service that spans nearly a century.  Creating the Educational Advancement Foundation was the method by which Alpha Kappa Alpha. Inc. sought to ensure that there would always be support for education, its oldest program of service.  Today, the Foundation, a financially strong and viable organization, is a powerful tool for good, pooling the resources of others who share this vision of providing a perpetual source of support for education. 

Alpha Kappa Alpha implements an AKA HBCU Endowment Initiative in partnership with EAF, in which an endowed scholarship will be established at each accredited four-year HBCU.  The goal is to stamp the Alpha Kappa Alpha brand of financial support on each HBCU campus to help students remain in school, complete their course of study, and receive their college degrees. For more information about the Educational Advancement Foundation, please visit www.akaeaf.org.

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