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Networking, campus involvement key for alum's success

Jihad Dixon, a native of Charleston, W.Va., made the most of his time at West Virginia University. The list of accomplishments, roles and clubs are too long to list, but suffice it to say you aren't named one of the Daily Athenaeum's most influential people in 2016 by just sitting in your dorm.

Dixon left WVU after receiving a bachelor's degree in political science (2017) and a master's degree in higher education administration. He has leveraged his skills learned in the classroom and as an active member of campus to land him as the associate director for strategy and operations for the My Brother's Keeper Alliance through the Obama Foundation.   

What is the My Brother's Keeper Alliance?

My Brother’s Keeper Alliance leads a national call to action to build safe and supportive communities where boys and young men of color are valued and have clear pathways to opportunity. We work with communities across the nation to change systems and ultimately break down barriers to provide opportunities for boys and young men of color.

This work specifically takes me back to my time as a student at WVU. I was president of the WVU NAACP where I advocated for communities of color to have equal opportunity and access to education, healthcare and basic human rights. The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the impact our program has on creating opportunities for employment and mentorship for boys and young men of color.

What specific experiences as a WVU graduate student in the higher education program helped prepare you for your career?

Graduate school allowed me to really focus on furthering my career and focusing on a specific area to advance me professionally. In the higher education administration program, it was a small but mighty group of individuals who were all dedicated to advancing postsecondary education in our world. Luckily, many of the folks that I was in class with had a passion for WVU and were actively involved on campus. That allowed us all to grow and really lean into supporting each other as professionals and build ourselves a community of practice.

In addition to my time in the classroom, I had the opportunity of creating lasting projects and programs on campus through my graduate assistantship. I created the Student Life Ambassadors program and restarted the Diversity Ambassadors program. I gained experience with project management, communication and outreach – skills that ultimately transfer into my work today.

Who were some of the graduate program faculty that helped inspire and mentor you?

I had three brilliant professors in the study of higher education: Nate Sorber, Erin McHenry-Sorber and Rodney Hughes. They each played a pivotal role in shaping me as a theory-based higher education professional. Being a WVU graduate and working for the university kept me in a bubble of what higher education could be, but it also allowed me to see a bigger picture of the true and total impact of higher education on students, families and society as a whole.

What are some of your favorite memories from your time in Morgantown? What is one thing about the area that you miss?

Morgantown, although a small town on a hill, is like no other. It is a small town that is fast paced because people move in and out so frequently. It is a place where you seemingly know everyone, especially if you are involved and active on campus.

What would you say to a young person considering WVU?

Here in the Washington, D.C. area, it is busy but the community is different. I miss the WVU community and also Mario’s Fishbowl. I have not been able to find good wings here in Washington.

WVU is a special place with special people. It is not perfect, but if you can take advantage of all the connections, opportunities and learning that can happen there, you will be better off. WVU offers a chance to be immersed in West Virginia culture, but also provides the opportunities for you to meet people from many different walks of life with many different experiences.

What advice would you give to current students?

There is so many opportunities for you to connect and advance your career if you take advantage of them, so I would advise students to cultivate a network. Students should be afraid to get to know the dean, professors, peers or university administrators. Students should take the leap of faith to reach out to these people, ask questions and be bold. The connections that you make will carry you throughout your career. The beauty of being a Mountaineer is that we are tenacious and go after our dreams.

As an alum, how do you try and stay connected to the university?

I am connected in many ways but currently I serve as the president of the WVU Black Alumni Association. We are charged with keeping black alumni connected to the campus culture and also providing networking opportunities.

I love WVU. It was where I met some of my best friends. It was where I met the love of my life. It was where I grew the most as a black man in America. It was where I felt most at home. It was where I had the ability to create so much change for good. It is my home and will always have a special place in my heart.

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