By Nana Younge
Theme: “Creating a legacy from the start and leaving a mark at UMass Lowell”.
Nana’s speech starts at the 31:50 minute mark
Good Morning Class of 2024, 2025 and Incoming transfers
My name is Nana Younge, Executive Director of Get Girls Going, a non-profit organization that uses entrepreneurship as a tool to empower black teen girls to create social enterprises that make a difference in their communities. I am so humbled to be here today because I know that I stand on the legacies of my ancestors who paved the way to ensure that systematically excluded young Black women like myself have the option to attend and graduate from universities like Umass Lowell in the 21st century.
When I got the call to be this year’s convocation keynote speaker, I knew that I would be speaking to arguably the most resilient group of incoming students this university has ever seen. We may not know each other on a personal level but one thing I do know about you is that these past two years have brought forth unimaginable challenges that disrupted what you knew to be normal and forced you to adapt, sacrifice and overcome in order to survive. Many of you lost family members or friends, colleagues, or neighbors and in the midst of this loss, you have had to wrap up senior year in high school or freshman year of college online. So before I get to tell you about my journey, I want to let you know how inspiring you are to me and to all of the classes that have come before you.
The UML Experience
I am a proud Umass Lowell Alum, but in full disclosure, my journey at Umass Lowell started off as a struggle, but through my journey, I learned that college is a process, a metaphor we use in entrepreneurship that starting something new is by no means an absolute, but a process by which we pursue opportunities without knowledge of what the future may hold.
In 2013 I started freshman year at Umass Lowell, declaring my major in plastics engineering. During move-in week, I attended convocation and sat in the seats you are sitting in now. I remember having mixed feelings. I was excited, nervous, anxious, curious, and most importantly, hopeful of the possibility of this new journey. I left convocation feeling inspired, but in the coming weeks, reality set in. I found myself struggling to keep up with my classes; struggling to balance work and school, and struggling to maintain friendships. I soon began to think that the promise of college, a place that was fun, prosperous, and where you would meet your lifelong friends was all a lie. I even began to rationalize the idea that college isn’t for me because the reality of higher education in this country has been to historically and systematically exclude people that looked like me.
Recognize My Struggle
In the spring semester of my freshman year, I remember walking from North Campus to Leitch Hall when a fellow student stopped to invite me to a National Society of Black Engineers meeting, NSBE for short. I learned from her that NSBE was one of a few clubs on campus dedicated to creating authentic spaces for Black students who are pursuing careers in STEM. After having a rough first semester, I figured that if I wanted to turn things around I needed to go about my college process differently. For example joining clubs, attending events, and taking advantage of the campus resources that provided relief to the struggles I experienced the semester before.
The NSBE Experience
When I attended my first NSBE meeting, I met students who looked like me, who were like-minded, and for the first time since being at UMass Lowell, I found a truly safe space where I could talk about my struggles in a restorative way. Soon enough, I gained friends and mentors at UMass Lowell who would provide the additional support I needed. We studied together, participated in volunteer days, organized youth outreach events, and attended UMass Lowell-sponsored professional conferences to expand our collegiate and professional networks.
My involvement in NSBE became more than a Thursday night club meeting. It became an avenue for opportunities. My newly acquired network and support from the UML Career & co-op center landed me a 6-month internship in the spring of 2015 during my sophomore year at one of the largest medical device companies in the world.
The Origin Story of Get Girls Going
My experience there allowed me to feel firsthand what a career would be like after college. At my internship, we were developing medical devices that solved health problems for all people and although we were doing amazing work, the reality of our workplace was that it was dominated by white men. I was one of the two women and the only woman of color on my team. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but feel like there needed to be more representation because I believe that the most important feature of problem-solving is the inclusion of people who are directly impacted by the problem.
This issue of leadership, representation, and problem-solving became so important to me that when my co-op ended later that summer I wrote down ideas on how I could contribute to its solution. I developed the idea for Get Girls Going and reached out to The Rist DifferenceMaker Institute which is a campus-wide program at UMass Lowell that focuses on engaging all students in creative problem-solving. The amazing staff at Difference Makers provided me with an immense amount of support and resources that included mentorship, an opportunity to pitch for funding, team building assistance, connections to additional resources, and much more! Later that year, with the support of Difference Makers and the UMass Lowell student activities office, my newly founded team and I made Get Girls Going a reality. I grew to love the work I was doing at Get Girls Going so much that I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life. So in the second semester of my junior year, I made the decision to switch my major from engineering to business administration with a concentration in entrepreneurship.
You see, when I first came to Umass Lowell, I was too focused on just getting a degree, not understanding that the college journey and process were most important. Secondly, I was worried about what I was going to get out of this experience not realizing that it’s about learning how you contribute to the communities you are a part of.
As you begin your journey at Umass Lowell, remember to trust yourself and trust the process. The truth of the matter is, embracing this process could lead you to your purpose.
It did for me.
Every experience you will have here, every person you will meet, every failure you will experience will be an opportunity to learn, to get closer to your purpose; to rethink, reimagine and try again.
Know that you are in a place where opportunities and resources exist with the intention to help you succeed. It is when you start to tap into the resources that are unknown to you that you really begin your journey of learning and growth.
Class of 2024, 2025 and incoming transfers, as you begin to develop your plan to pursue different careers, no matter the career, whether it’s in nursing, engineering, or teaching, keep in mind that our one shared purpose is to take responsibility as citizens of the world and contribute to the betterment of our society.
In closing, I want to offer you this last piece of advice, one that I often share with the incredible teen entrepreneurs at Get Girls Going.
That the way to become successful in whatever you do relies on, what we call, the entrepreneurial mindset. The entrepreneurial mindset is defined as a way of thinking that enables you to overcome your challenges by constantly improving your skills, identifying and learning from mistakes, and finally, proactively implementing your latest and greatest ideas.
Entrepreneur or not, you are starting something new by beginning this journey, by beginning this semester, so continue to develop this entrepreneurial mindset and know that you are more than capable of success.
Difference Makers Pitch Introduction
And now you will hear from three current Difference Maker teams who also have identified problems that they are passionate about solving and are developing solutions to address them.