Interview with Ayoade Balogun: Engineer, Scholar, Philanthropist


Jesse Case, Managing Editor

How does it feel to be a senior?

It’s pretty crazy and still pretty hard to believe. Especially these last couple of weeks, have just been several days of “lasts”. Just yesterday I had my last band concert after four years in band and got pretty nostalgic about it. But overall I’m really excited! I’m really excited to see where all my friends are going because they’re all ready to do great things and even though we’re all gonna miss each other I think we’re all super ready to take on whatever’s coming next.

Are you excited to go to Stanford next year?

I’m just excited to be able to explore, really deeply, what I want to do. I know I want to go into engineering but I’m not 100% sure what field within engineering to look at. I’m thinking environmental engineering, which I’m really excited to study at Stanford just because of , you know, the resources that they have there for that. They have a really great hub of STEM and engineering, the ecosystems they have to study and just the big variation of different field work that I could do, the different research that I could do.

I definitely think the hardest part, at least, is over. College application season was incredibly stressful and I think this part of senior year is definitely the time of zen. My main focus has been just getting to know my friends better and really cherishing the time that we have together. I think a lot of the nerves are gonna hit the weeks before move-in day and that kind of thing. I’m just now sort of filling out the paperwork and health forms and those kind of things and dorming requests and that kind of thing. It’s all still very exciting because it’s super new and I think the nerves will hit later.

Tell me about yourself and what you’ve done over the past few years.

I’ve tried to stay really active in the school and in the broader community over the past four years. Seeing how I can do what makes me happy and what makes other people happy, to help other people and leave lasting contributions wherever I go. I guess I’ve done that in a lot of ways. MESA Bridge Camp being one of them, one of the highlights of being in high school, getting to do that with all my friends and getting to meet local middle school girls who are also interested in engineering. I just talked about the band concert, I really love the band program we have here. I played saxophone and I also stayed involved musically by playing in the pit for our musicals. Then I did musical things outside of school, I have the best first job ever, which is teaching beginning cello lessons. Most of my students are little kids but I have a few older middle school and high school students and a couple adults. I’m so grateful. It’s crazy to be able to take that on during high school. I’m really grateful for all the faith that my boss there put in me to do that job. It’s been one of the more rewarding experiences of my life.

I’d like to congratulate you on your Emily Couric Scholarship and being honored with the title of Jefferson scholar at UVa. You’re the first Jefferson scholar and second winner of the Emily Couric Scholarship in AHS history. Can you tell me more about the MESA Bridge Program?

MESA Bridge Camp is a one-week Summer camp for middle school girls, it’s an engineering summer camp. The goal there is that it’s really student-run. Me and a team of other high school mentors made up the plans, put up the website, sorted the applications, kept in contact with the parents, and we were in charge of teaching the campers math and physics that related to bridge building. By the end of the week the campers would use what they’d learn to design and build an actual pedestrian bridge on the Rivanna trail. Over the past couple years we’ve had two sessions over the last two summers. We have two bridges up in the community that serve their purpose well. The girls can leave their lasting mark through that community service.

What do you like to do outside of school?

I guess music is the main thing. I think that’s the thing that I spend my most time doing that’s non-academic just because I was in Jazz Band these past couple years and that’s a huge commitment that I’m grateful every day to take on. That’s been super fun and with cello I play in the youth symphony of Central Virginia, we just had our last concert last week. As far as entertainment goes, I like to read and listen to music.

Have you always been on the advanced track in school?

I guess I’ve always been curious and I do really like school. I don’t think I have any memory of – I mean, of course, there are times, we all have them, where we’re just tired and things get tough but overall I’ve always really liked school. I think that’s probably because I’ve been really lucky to have gone to such wonderful schools where we have teachers that are encouraging and bring life to their subjects that they teach. There are just so many opportunities.

What have been some unexpected hurdles?

Time management. It was hard coming into 9th grade and getting used to high school. I’ve always really wanted to do everything because I’ve always been really interested in everything. I’m an optimistic person and it’s easy for me to find things that I really enjoy. I played basketball in 9th grade, not very well at all, but just because I played basketball in middle school and really enjoyed it. It was just so hard to balance my academics and music and sports. That was sort of my first taste of prioritizing and organizing and deciding where is it that I can contribute as best I can and still be doing the things that I like to do. That was the first time of many times that I had to make that kind of decision. It was a good thing for me because it allowed me to do other things. Good thing for the school ‘cos they didn’t have me on their basketball team anymore.

What advice would you offer to students struggling with that same problem?

Definitely take some time to try new things and don’t be afraid to do that because high school is a wonderful time to do that. You’ll find new interests that you never thought you’d be good at or that you’d like. But also really make sure you do some self-reflection. I like to say to make sure what you’re doing matters, but it’s easy to get caught in the trap that you think you always need to be doing something important with every minute of your time. That’s not really it. You should be doing what makes you happy, but also what will be a good contribution to your school community. It’s all about balance, which is definitely easier said than done. A lot of it comes with experience.

What inspires you to do so much?

A lot of it is how grateful and lucky I am to have great schools and great resources in the area and to have grown up with this childhood where I was always supported in what I wanted to do and super free to learn. It’s definitely been a big motivator because these opportunities are not – I don’t want to take them for granted and I think by using those resources to make sure that I’m giving back, that’s how I feel like those resources will not have been wasted on me.

Did you expect to get so much recognition and so many feathers in your cap?

When I was doing these things, I guess I wasn’t really thinking in terms of that end-goal. College is a big end-goal for a lot of us in high school, and college is always something that was talked about in my house. We started pretty early ‘cos I have an older sister. I was always on college visits with her. She’s a year older than me so I was looking at that a year early. I wasn’t really thinking about the recognition. In the example of the Bridge Camp, my big end-goal was just to make sure the kids had a good time and learned a lot. I guess that’s a lesson, too. If in what you do, you focus on the returns to other people, you’ll always find success in the end.