Ike Ejikeme likes to push himself and has a fistful of firsts to prove it. He is the first transfer student, first graduate student, and second African American in university history to serve as a student representative on the Board of Trustees.
In 2014, his first year here, he won a seat on the Student Senate as an undergraduate transferring from New Jersey City University. There were 20 people running for four seats and despite his newness, he was the only transfer student elected.
But it wasn’t an easy transition at first. He didn’t get a scholarship he had counted on and he felt like a stranger in the South Jersey woods.
“I’ll never forget trying to figure out how I’d survive life in the Pine Barrens after spending the past two years in a city environment where I could catch the bus anywhere I wanted to go,” said Ejikeme, looking back on that time. “I’ll never forget being the newbie in a five-person apartment where all four people knew each other. I’ll never forget being homesick and missing Jersey City and my friends which I had built strong bonds and made lifelong memories with…. But despite the hardships I faced, I owed it to myself to succeed. I had a vision that could not be taken away. I prayed, worked hard and just believed in myself. When it comes to reaching a goal, I am relentless; I guess it paid off in the end.”
Although deciding to come to Stockton, Ejikeme did not tell any of his close friends right away. A “life-changing” conversation with a fraternity brother assured him that he was making the right decision, but still had a long way to go. The brother convinced him that he was not achieving his full potential, despite having a high GPA and playing college sports.
“At that moment I vowed to take advantage of every opportunity that came my way at my new school,” he said. “I was already in Iota Phi Theta since I was initiated at my old school, but I came to Stockton and decided to run for a spot on the Student Senate because all through high school I ran for those student government positions and never won; to my surprise I was elected. It made me feel like I had true purpose and that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to doing here.
“Everything else I did on campus I did because I wanted to get involved, meet people, network, help people, but most importantly leave a lasting legacy. I knew I had the charisma so all I needed was the motivation in order to succeed,” he said.
That’s not ego talking – Ejikeme’s mother, who emigrated to the United States from Nigeria along with his father before he was born, always said he drew people to him from a very young age. Her confidence reinforced his own.
But on Day One at Stockton, he wasn’t so sure. He’d expected to receive an extra $1,000 due to information on Stockton’s web site offering additional funds to transfers with a 3.6 GPA, and his was 3.8. When he was told in very emphatic terms that he didn’t qualify, he felt “shell-shocked and hurt.”
But that didn’t stop him. His parents reassured him that the money wasn’t crucial and he refused to let the setback damage his sense of self-worth.
Now, he’s a student ambassador for Admissions and “really happy that I’m here.” The experience made him “a true advocate for transfers, because it’s hard to start anew, not knowing anyone. It really takes a strong-willed person to come back from adversity,” as all successful transfer students do.
Ejikeme is now a second semester graduate student in the Homeland Security Track of the Masters of Criminal Justice Program. He is the alternate student trustee engaged in learning the process this year, and next year, he will be the voting member.
He was born in Jersey City and lived there as a child, eventually moving to a small town in central New Jersey. He was the only African American to graduate from his high school class there, so he still identifies as a Jersey City guy.
“When I graduated from high school I returned to Jersey City and attended New Jersey City University; the experiences of those two years literally changed my life and shaped the man I have become,” he said.
Ejikeme was originally initiated into the Epsilon chapter at New Jersey City University in Fall 2013, but is currently president of the Stockton chapter of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity (Alpha Alpha Chapter.) His organization does community projects such as feeding the homeless and participating in the annual MLK Walk in Atlantic City. “Using my fraternity as a platform, I started an annual food drive which is still going strong, with proceeds donated to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission. There are some major community service projects I am currently working on that will benefit homeless people in Atlantic City and St. Jude Children’s Hospital, which is my fraternity’s philanthropy.
“Other than the extracurricular activities I’m involved in on campus, I love to learn!” he said. “My friends call me a ‘professional student’ because of the amount of learning I do and based on my post-grad aspirations.
“In my free time I’m usually relaxing and listening to music or in the gym working out. When I’m not doing that, you can probably catch me reading some news article, book, or doing career-based research. I don’t watch much TV, but I love research and I consider myself a human sponge that’s always looking to learn and absorb new information.”
As far as career-based work, he has done work with the Middlesex County Office of Emergency Management. He also works for the Stockton Polling Institute.
He’s on the Dean’s List here and at his old school, he made the Dean’s List every semester he was enrolled and held the highest cumulative grade point average of all male collegiate athletes.
Now he’s looking toward the future.
“I have many goals!” he said. “First and foremost, it has been a dream of mine since the age of 10, to one day become a published author. That is something I definitely still hope to do one day. Secondly, although this may not be my final academic stop, one of my future educational goals is to receive a PhD. Occupation-wise, I can see myself doing Health Care Emergency Management Government based work. I’m very interested in policy analysis and my skills are certainly up there. I guess time will tell.”
No one does it alone, and Ejikeme wants to thank a number of people from Stockton and outside of Stockton, starting at the very top:
- “First and foremost I’d like to thank God or every single blessing and opportunity that has come my way in the past few years; I’ve never underestimated the power of prayer.
- I’d also like to thank my immediate family for supporting me throughout this journey and knowing when to give me space to excel while also knowing when to comfort me in times of need.
- I also want to thank my extended family, both my chapters: Epsilon Chapter of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., the home chapter I was initiated at, and the Alpha Alpha Chapter of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., my chapter at Stockton, for giving me a platform to excel and really just having my back through all my highs and lows.
- Lastly, I’d like to thank a dear friend of mine, Rich Jefferies, a Stockton alum. Rich and I came in as transfers together and coincidentally sat in the same row at transfer orientation. (Of course I came late and he helped me find my way.) It would be at least a year until we got close, but when we did he proved to be a true friend to me. Rich brought a unique perspective to Stockton just as I did, but he was a bit older than the ‘traditional college student.’ Rich is one of the most knowledgeable people I know and has given me so much useful advice during this long journey I’ve been through. I will never forget that!”
What’s his advice to his fellow students?
“Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone just because you don’t see people that look like you doing so. Never let anyone tell you that your dreams are too big. If you have the vision, you owe it to yourself to make it happen. And lastly, learn to embrace your struggles – it will only make success feel that much better.”