Washington State University electrical engineering senior Maximillian Obasiolu has been named a nationally competitive Schwarzman Scholar award finalist, said April Seehafer, director of the Distinguished Scholarships Program.
The Schwarzman, first presented to U.S. students in 2016, was created to prepare young leaders to respond to the geopolitical landscape of this century, according to the foundation’s website. Recipients of the award are tapped to pursue a one-year master’s degree in global affairs, taught in English at Tsinghua University in Beijing China where they can focus on public policy, economics and business, or international studies. The Schwarzman is aimed at deepening the understanding of China’s role in global trends.
“Maximillian is an exceptional student who identifies his goals and tailors—or creates—opportunities to reach them,” said Seehafer. “He has an entrepreneurial spirit and an awareness of emerging trends that align not only with his personal educational and career plans but also with the Schwarzman Scholar program. We are pleased and proud that Maximillian represented WSU.”
“I am very honored to be a Schwarzman finalist and the process to become one has reinforced my thoughts about my future,” Obasiolu said.
Obasiolu was one of 400 finalists interviewed by the organization out of 3,600 applicants. He is WSU’s second Schwarzman finalist.
From Chicago to WSU—twice
Obasiolu aspires to become a leader in the emerging field of technology policy, and to help influence engineering, management, and government leaders to make solid, civic-minded decisions when it comes to technology.
“Since we (engineers) are digitally and physically building the future, we have an ethical stake in how and what we do,” he said.
His interest in technology was nurtured at Lane Tech College Prep High School in north Chicago, his hometown. Lane Tech is a four-year, selective-enrollment magnet high school that enrolls more than 4,000 students. Obasiolu credits physics teacher Glenn Wilson’s Saturday tutoring sessions, and computer science teacher Jeff Solin’s digital manufacturing “maker space” class, for inspiring him.
He also tips his hat to his Cougar-alumni parents for introducing him to WSU. His mother, Lyndell (’85 Criminal Justice/Pre-Law) came to Pullman from Seaside, California to play basketball; she now owns and operates Hendel Group in Chicago, a screen-printing company for athletic wear. His father, Henry, came to WSU from Nigeria to study architecture, but ultimately graduated from the nearby University of Idaho and currently owns a global procurement business for the building materials supply chain.
“I was accepted to several colleges, but I choose WSU because it was not in the Midwest, it offered me a substantial scholarship, and the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture had engineering resources aligned with what I got a taste of in high school,” said Obasiolu. “Originally, I thought I’d major in mechanical engineering and the Frank Innovation Zone in the lower level of Dana Hall was very amazing with its fabrication studios for wood, metal, desktop, and electronics, its tools, the 3-D printers and laser engraver, and more—I was pretty overwhelmed at first.”
After encountering financial trouble, he returned to Chicago for a semester where he worked full-time and attended community college. He returned to Pullman with redoubled resolve to make the most of his studies and get involved and create an inclusive environment that “fostered a strong intersectional culture similar to those I experienced in Chicago.” One of those activities led him to change his major to electrical engineering.
The power of networking
Obasiolu sought to build a support system for other students. He became a peer mentor for underrepresented minority and low-income students in the Team Mentoring Program, and helped re-establish the WSU chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. At its national convention, he enjoyed meeting “black engineers and other people like me” and said he saw how knowledge of electrical as well as mechanical engineering would boost his knowledge and improve his abilities.
His WSU education also led him to internships at Dell and Micron technology companies.
“WSU has provided me with the opportunities that come with a very community-centric environment. I have also appreciated the way the engineering faculty are always willing to share their knowledge with undergraduates. It’s been very, very cool. A fun time.”
He also appreciated Seehafer’s advice in applying for the Schwarzman. “The process was lengthy and required me to organize my thoughts about myself, my goals, my skills and interests, and my education.”
After graduation in May, Obasiolu will spend several weeks in Pullman “maybe building a robot” before he’s off to Pittsburgh for master’s classes at the private research institution, Carnegie Mellon University. He will seek dual degrees—one in electrical and computer engineering, and another in engineering technology and innovation management. He received a fellowship from the National GEM Consortium to pay for his studies. GEM programs enable qualified students from underrepresented communities to pursue graduate education in applied science and engineering.
Obasiolu sees his first job as working for a startup company, designing consumer products that benefit society. Later in his career, he would like to be an advisor on public technology policy and perhaps work as a senior fellow at a think tank.
“No matter what, though, I’ll always appreciate the many ways that I grew and learned and was able to try new things at WSU.”