Black Student Scholarships at Western Provide Life-Changing Support and Connections

Amala Igwilo describes receiving the James Jenkins President’s Entrance Scholarship for Black Students as one of the best things that’s ever happened to him.

Not only did the scholarship remove the stress and strain of tuition for the second-year health sciences student, but it also connected him with a network of friends at Western University.

It was a way for me to find community. Especially because this was a new scholarship brought to Western, there were other people who were in the same circumstance. Through that, I found a mini family,” Igwilo said.

Learn more about the new Scholarships for Black Students

Named after the publisher of a Black newspaper and co-founder of the Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People, the James Jenkins President’s Entrance Scholarship for Black Students is one of several scholarships for Black students at Western.

Each year, it is awarded to five students with outstanding academic performance, providing $20,000 in the first year and $10,000 for each of the next three years in their undergraduate degrees.

Igwilo described the scholarship’s tuition support as a “really big relief” for his family. The new scholarships for Black students were awarded to inaugural recipients during Black History Month last year, including the award named after James Jenkins, the Carmeta Thelma Hodges Western Continuing Admission Scholarship of Excellence for Black Students and the Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Jacobs Western Continuing Admission Scholarship of Distinction for Black Students.

A ceremony was held Feb. 8 to honour this year’s recipients as well as the inaugural recipients who received the grades necessary to renew their scholarships for a second year.

“These scholarships are awarded to deserving students who have demonstrated excellence, talent, and creativity in the academic world. It is recognition for exceptional abilities and hard work in the pursuit of knowledge. That is why these scholarships are named after members of the Black community who made a deep impact in the community during their lifetimes,” Opiyo Oloya, associate vice-president of equity, diversity, and inclusion, said during his remarks.

Learn more about scholarship winner, Aisha Olawoyin

Aisha Olawoyin, a first-year science student receiving the James Jenkins President’s Entrance Scholarship for Black Students, is among the 45 new scholarship recipients this year. “I had applied to a lot of scholarships, so winning this was a huge deal. It solidified my place here at Western. I am just so thankful and grateful,” she said.

Olawoyin moved from Winnipeg, Man. to study at Western. On top of her academic success, she is an avid reader, dedicated volunteer. and budding researcher who hopes to work in the field of cosmetics for women of colour. She .

A member of the Black History Month committee, Olawoyin is part of the group organizing events and celebrations on campus all month.

“Getting the scholarship was a huge opportunity. I wanted to pass on that opportunity to other people, to get that full Black experience at Western. I felt like I had to give back to this community that has given so much to me, and I thought being on the Black History Month committee was the best way to do that,” Olawoyin said.

President Alan Shepard spoke at the Feb. 8 ceremony, sharing his own story about receiving a life-changing scholarship as a first-generation university student.

That vote of confidence of the institution in you and in your future and in your leadership and in your opportunities is really powerful. I know it made a huge difference in my own journey — and I hope these scholarships do the same for these students,” Shepard said. Oloya also urged scholarship recipients to get to know one another and create a network of support.

Learn more about scholarship winner, Amala Igwilo

Olawoyin and Igwilo were among the 63 scholarship recipients in 2024, including new recipients and those who retained their scholarships for a second year. Both are also members of the African Students’ Association and Black Students’ Association at Western, another source of friendships and academic connections.

Igwilo came to Western with hopes of becoming a physician or a dentist. But now he’s considering other paths made possible by his health science program, such as rehabilitation or health policy work.

He’s also exploring his creative side by embracing his passion for drawing and painting. Igwilo details his process on social media.

“It’s a really strong passion that I just discovered recently. Last summer, it had been a very rough year for my family — we went through a lot.”

He stumbled across a headboard left on the side of the road and was struck by the blank canvas it offered. Igwilo decided to transform the piece of furniture into a work of art, using paint.

He found art was the perfect outlet. The headboard project blossomed into a YouTube Channel, @AmahTheAfricanGiant, where Igwilo highlights his artwork, particularly during summer and other breaks from his academic work.

He recently produced a creative painting of a tobacco plant for a chemistry assignment, hoping to earn bonus marks by turning in artwork that showed both chemistry and nature, Indigenous and Western knowledge. Igwilo was stunned but pleased when the professor acknowledged his work in front of the rest of the class.

“With art, I’m able to live in a different world than where I’m living right now. From a young age, I’ve just lived in fantasy stories. In my mind, we can fly, we can have super-speed, we can do all kinds of things.”

Learn more about Western’s scholarships for Black students