Last semester, three CCIM students attended the AfroTech Conference in Austin, Texas. Center for Information and Communication Sciences (CICS) graduate students Samuel Alabede, Gaffy Raji, and Olalekan Fagbo said the opportunity was a great way to immerse themselves in their CICS interests. 

The annual conference brings together Black engineers and tech innovators from across the globe. While attending, Samuel, Gaffy, and Olalekan said they felt genuine engagement, inclusivity, and connection as they learned about new technology, business plans, and projections for the future of the field. 

Selfie of three CICS graduate students outside of an airport.

In addition to sessions about AI entrepreneurship, ethics, cyber security, and more, attendees had the chance to learn about internship and job opportunities while building long-lasting relationships.  

Upon returning to campus, the trio was excited to bring new, applicable discussions to their peers in the CICS graduate program. Samuel, Gaffy, and Olalekan were so inspired by the  AfroTech conference that they are hoping to find a way to bring a similar experience to Ball State’s campus, possibly even inviting connections they made at the conference. 

Samuel, Gaffy, and Olalekan said they were thankful for the opportunity to go, which was made possible with assistance from the Jim Davis Endowment for New Media Fund, which supports immersive learning experiences with emerging media. 

Moving forward, Sam, Gaffy, and Olalekan can already see how their experiences at the conference will continue to have a positive impact on their future. 

Photo of Samuel Alabede at the conference.
Samuel Alabede

Samuel Alabede, CICS ‘23 

What was your journey to CICS at Ball State University like?   

I was in Nigeria previously working as a technical engineer and wanted to broaden my horizons knowledge-wise. So, I checked for schools in the U.S. that could infuse both my communications background skills because my background is in mass communication and the technological skills that I was picking up where I was working. After looking at different schools and programs, I chose the CICS program because it was the program that was able to offer what I wanted. 

How did you, Gaffy, and Olalekan meet?

Gaffy and Olalekan are my classmates; we met here at Ball State and the impact and support from them have been great and positive. We have helped each other both academically and on a personal level as well. The conference was very impactful for all of us, and we met interesting people and made meaningful connections. 

What is your favorite thing about CICS and do you have any mentors within the program?   

I have had people who have impacted my educational journey such as Dr. Faisal Kalota (assistant professor in CICS) and Kirsten Smith (associate director, technology officer, and labs manager in CICS). They have been a very supportive network to me, and my favorite part of the program is the opportunity to learn about different technologies and learn more about communications as well. Ball State has been great so far — the people, the community, and the environment has been great so far. 

What was your favorite information session at the conference and what did you learn from it? 

My favorite info session at the conference was with American Express, they talked about how in choosing a company to work for, you must know if the value of the company aligns with yours, what they bring to the table for you, and what you hope to learn and achieve long term.  A company’s culture is very important as it is what shapes your growth within the company.  

What has been the proudest moment of your college career so far?

Starting and finishing the program successfully has been my proudest moment so far, and my plans include working as a cloud engineer and then owning my own company someday.   

Photo of Gaffy Raji at the conference.
Gaffy Raji

Gaffy Raji, CICS Graduate Student  

What was your journey to CICS at Ball State University like? 

Prior to being at Ball State, I was working as a junior data analyst. I decided I needed more technical expertise in my field, which I discovered I lacked quite a bit of during my previous role. As I interacted with IT developers at my workplace, I became more interested in IT and data-related roles.   

Why did you choose the CICS program?

The CICS program offers a unique blend of business and technology courses that I could personalize. An example of this is the program’s flexibility in offering courses specific to my career goals.  

How has having a supportive network of other students like Samuel and Olalekan impacted your learning experience?  

To a large degree, having a supportive network of friends, especially from the CICS department, has given me the necessary exposure on certain related subjects in my field.   

Have you had any mentors within CICS and how have they impacted your academic career here? 

I would say I have had several professors who have given me good advice related to my career path. One notable professor of mine would be Dr. Faisal Kalota. He has been very instrumental in certain decisions I have made which I will continue to be grateful for.   

What is your favorite part of the CICS program and Ball State?   

My favorite part of the CICS program is its ability to be very involved in the students’ professional development. Ball State University has allowed for a very welcoming environment for International Students like me.  

What has been the proudest moment of your college career so far?

My proudest moment would be my decision to embark on my career journey as a data scientist. Filled with doubts from others, I decided to stay true to myself and embark on a path I found to be the most enjoyable and challenging.     

What are your plans after graduation? 

I plan to take my expertise and career path a notch higher by pursuing a PhD program. I will also be opportune to qualify for several internships which I will take advantage of while in my program.

What was your favorite information session at the conference and what did you learn from it? 

One of my favorite Info Sessions was during the Amazon private evening session/event. Here I got to learn first-hand information from an engineering manager at Amazon. I learned a lot about machine learning models used in the data science field and how data scientists at Amazon apply this to their work processes. I also got the opportunity to interact with a PhD holder and the VP of Engineering at Discovery Inc. Here, I got the opportunity to explain my knowledge and skills in machine learning models and deep learning algorithms while receiving feedback regarding my past projects related to that. I got to deepen my knowledge on how machine learning models can help mitigate risks for businesses, replicate models, and use these models to anticipate customer references or selections. 

Photo of Olalekan Fagbo.
Olalekan Fagbo

Olalekan Fagbo, CICS Graduate Student  

What was your journey to CICS at Ball State University like? Where were you before, and what led you here?  

Actually, my undergraduate was in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, but during the process of completing my undergraduate degree, I made a decision that I was going to do something different for my master’s degree; however, that inspiration came during my internship year where I worked as an Information technology assistant in a company in Nigeria. Prior to starting my application for my master’s degree, COVID-19 began. With restrictions and everything, I went online to accumulate knowledge based on my career path. I discovered cloud computing, and I developed an interest in it. Udemy and Amazon Web Services academy platforms were the learning platforms I used to learn about this technology. 

Why did you choose the CICS program?

After the ease of restrictions caused by COVID-19, I came across Ball State while searching for schools; of course, I applied to three schools. I chose Ball State University because the CICS course curriculum offers my core course choice. It has been more than a year now, and I do not regret the decision I took. Although it was challenging, there is a saying that says nothing good comes easy. 

Did you know Gaffy and Sam before the conference?  

Gaffy and Sam were the first students I interacted with in my first class. We were all Nigerians, so it was easy for me to link up with them very fast. However, I later extended my tentacles to also know the remaining students in the class from other countries and to learn one or two things about their cultures.  

How has having a supportive network of other students impacted your learning experience?   

Moving to a new environment, settling down and attending class was challenging. Having Gaffy and Sam as friends supported my learning experience in a positive way. We joke a lot, and when it comes to the real work, which is the reason why we are here, we don’t mess around. Well, I conclude that having intelligent friends makes learning easier. 

Have you had any specific mentors within CICS and how have they impacted your academic career here?  

Not really, but all the department staff contributed and impacted my academic career in a positive way. Whenever everything looked confusing, having a one-on-one session with the department staff was not hard to get. Moreover, Kirsten Smith is a mother, and her position as the students’ advisor was never a mistake. Dr. Faisal Kalota is an amazing human being. I can cross the ocean to attend his class, and I’m grateful I was able to tap from his abundant wealth of knowledge. Desiree Soptelean is a wonderful being; her selfless acts are incredible. Kudos to all CICS staff. 

What is your favorite part of the CICS program and Ball State? 

Every phase of the CICS program has been my favorite, most especially the hands-on project, Taste of CICS, and career day. For Ball State, the amazing people and the serenity of the environment.

What has been the proudest moment of your college career so far?   

Multitasking is one of the things I always find difficult to do; I prefer to do stuff one after the other. With the learning process in CICS, I have been able to develop how to multitask which I feel is going to help in every phase of my life. One of the significant moments was preparing for Cloud Computing Certifications while doing my schoolwork, and I aced both. 

What are your plans after graduation?     

After graduation, I will be taking a role as a Cloud Solution Architect or as a Cloud Security Engineer. However, I might consider a PhD degree sometime in the future. 

What was your favorite information session at the conference and what did you learn from it?  

My initial expectations were to discover new technology, network, and form meaningful connections with people of great minds, but I left the conference with much more. I acquired more knowledge about AI and its influence on society. I attended one of the sessions where the speakers talked about harnessing Inclusivity for Responsible AI. The ability to design, develop, and deploy AI from an ethical or legal point of view and build AI with good intentions. An increase In transparency and reduction of AI bias can be achieved if AI is used responsibly. One of the speakers mentioned how AI can help students gain effective learning; “imagine using your AI tool to design a learning model you want for yourself through pictures, videos, music, or stories.” Also, a point was raised about creating more awareness about AI in the community as an essential way of developing a responsible AI and encouraged people to be more welcoming to the use of AI rather than hold on to the fear that it’s going to replace us in our jobs because this technology would still require human intervention. AI is here to stay, and building security frameworks such as compliance, regulatory bodies, and policies to create solid security measures to guide this technology should be considered.