Philanthropy fuels student's excellence—and his empathy
Internship grants and a scholarship helped alumnus Suleiman Abiola choose a career path and serve a struggling Baltimore community in the process
As a Johns Hopkins University undergraduate, Suleiman Abiola began preparing for a career as a medical missionary by majoring in public health studies, pursuing a pre-med track.
The coursework allowed him to shadow doctors in Johns Hopkins Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit and learn from Hopkins experts about global health care delivery, but he says it was a summer 2013 internship with Strong City Baltimore that taught him "how to practically approach a community when you're trying to partner with it."
With Strong City Baltimore, Abiola worked primarily with the Harwood neighborhood, located just south of Homewood campus and adjacent to the Greenmount Avenue corridor. He knocked on doors to speak with citizens and engaged volunteer groups and businesses with Harwood community anchors like the Barclay School and the 29th Street Community Center. And, among other projects, he designed a postcard that listed these and other local resources so residents could easily find them.
"People trusted him. He'd listen, he'd respond, and he'd always follow up on what he said he would do," says Karen DeCamp, Strong City Baltimore's director of neighborhood programs.
That rapport with Harwood's residents—critical to the community-building work that Strong City Baltimore leads—made it a no-brainer for DeCamp and her colleagues to retain Abiola as a work-study employee for two years after his internship ended.
The opportunity to spend a summer with Strong City Baltimore came from the Community Impact Internships Program, established in 2011 by a generous gift from Jeff Aronson, A&S '80, Parent '13 and '15, and chair of the university's Board of Trustees, and his wife, Shari. In fact, Abiola's ability to attend Hopkins was made possible by philanthropy; he received the Howard and Ina Drew Scholarship, endowed by two Krieger School alumni. He's keenly aware—and grateful for—the doors such generosity has opened.
"Hopkins students are such high achievers because [they're] in an atmosphere that fuels excellence. Philanthropy plays a big role in that by providing so many resources, as well as streamlining access to them," says Abiola, who also benefited from a Second Decade Society Summer Internship Grant funded by a council of Krieger School alumni.
Abiola is one of the many Hopkins students to benefit from financial contributions to the eight-year Rising to the Challenge campaign, which raised $610 million for student financial aid. He graduated in May 2016 and is now pursuing his medical degree in the Urban Service Track at UConn School of Medicine.
DeCamp, who has worked with interns from several local colleges and AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers from around the country, considers Abiola among the best she's met.
"When you expose students to the idea that struggling communities are full of dynamic and wonderful people—not just data and statistics—and pair that knowledge with a world-class education from Hopkins," she says, "you're going to produce adults who are intellectually great and have a deep understanding of how to use that knowledge to help people throughout the world."