Simi Ayinde (W ‘21) has mastered the art of adaptation. Born in Rhode Island, raised in Nigeria, and eventually schooled in the United Kingdom, she has come to call many places home. But these changes have not been without their set of difficulties—from small details like remembering to drop the "u" from "colour" to more significant hurdles like lacking a community at Penn in her first year of college, Simi understands that transition is a verb, not a noun.
At the age of 11, Simi was shipped off to boarding school at The King's School, Canterbury, where she was surrounded by people she had never met before. She distinctly remembers dreading her Saturday classes.
Yet these feelings didn't last long. “I eventually became the head of the girls’ boarding house and I managed to remove the stigma of boarding school being away from your family and changed it to a never–ending sleep–over with your friends,” Simi reflects. As the head of the girls’ boarding house throughout her high school years, Simi had many late–night SAT study sessions interrupted by knocks on her door from homesick and quarrelsome younger peers. These disruptions, however, never bothered Simi, who describes herself as a "people person."
Her rigidly structured days at Canterbury were filled with French, Spanish, Latin and Greek, and in the evening she found joy in netball, rounders, hockey and lacrosse. When it eventually came time to plan for college, Simi was inspired by her mother, who had completed Wharton’s Advanced Management Program, and applied to Penn. Despite her worries about moving further away from her family in Nigeria, Simi took a leap of faith and embarked on a new adventure studying Marketing & Organizations Management at Wharton.
Similar to Canterbury, Simi once again had to find her community and position within a new, strange world. She remembers not knowing how to ask for help, or even who to talk to. It was not until her sophomore year that those questions were answered. She joined the on–campus organization Nigerians at Penn as the marketing chair, and despite not having taken any of her marketing courses yet, set out to create a stronger sense of community among Nigerian students at Penn. Through promotional videos and content, Simi sought to create events that “make people feel that they are not just coming here to eat rice, but coming here to see their friends, talk to more people, and to give advice.”
In line with her mission, this fall Simi will be serving as the chief of staff at the African Community Learning Program (ACLP), a nonprofit that seeks to educate, empower and support people of African background in West Philadelphia.
More specifically, she will be leading the Future Scholars Program (FSP) which is a skills–based, culturally responsive and African–centered curriculum for African diaspora students at Paul Robeson High School to prepare them for success in college and beyond.
In other words, Simi is helping students to prosper in any new learning environment just as she has.
Simi first became involved with the ACLP as a volunteer English teacher to elementary school students, many of whom had recently immigrated. Working alongside Aminata Sy, the ACLP’s Founder and President, Simi saw a new direction for the organization to take by empowering high school students. “ACLP is really focused on the community and helping people in regards to education and education at all levels. From learning to speak English to what happens once you get to college, ” Simi explains.
As Chief of Staff, Simi spent this past summer honing her organizational management skills by recruiting and training an eight–person leadership team to serve as instructors for the 15 participants in the Future Scholars Program, which is set to launch October 6th.
“There’s a lot of SAT prep that other organizations do, but what sets us apart is we’re preparing them for once they get to college—so how to present an effective presentation, time–management, how to write essays and tell your story.”
Going beyond the virtual lessons, panels, and trips planned during the two–month program, Simi is hoping that the mentorship between the leadership team and the scholars grow outside of the boundaries of the program.
"A pack of people ready to help these students through life ... not just in college.”