ATLANTA — Chinelo Moneke’s (B.S., ‘21) desire to serve marginalized populations has driven her career aspirations, as has her identity as a second-generation Nigerian immigrant.
“I’ve lived in Georgia my whole life, but I speak our language fluently and am very involved in Nigerian culture, so I have a double-view” she said. “I know that Nigerian politics can be shady, and I’ve seen people in immigrant communities struggle. At the same time, growing up here as the child of immigrants and a Black woman, I can see how our justice system treats people like me.”
As a teen, Moneke channeled this passion and insight into a plan: she was going to attend law school and eventually become a defense or immigration attorney.
Georgia State University piqued her interest after she heard an older friend’s accounts of the excitement and diversity of campus life. After researching the university and learning she could major in criminal justice, she was sold.
“I only applied to one other school so people wouldn’t look at me crazy,” she said. “But I knew I wanted to go to Georgia State. When I got the acceptance email, I was screaming and hollering. I was so excited!”
Even with her high expectations, Moneke wasn’t prepared for the impact the program would have on her career aspirations.
“I expected to just go through my degree so I could get to law school,” she said. “But after experiencing the campus, the student body and the school’s culture, I fell in love.”
Her experiences at the Andrew Young School affirmed her identity as a Black woman and helped her develop her voice as an advocate, she said. “I grew up in a diverse area, but I still wasn’t used to so many people that look like me. Seeing Black women like Dr. Natasha Johnson in my field was inspiring.”
Moneke sees taking ownership of her identity a part of finding her voice as an advocate for others.
“Being there helped me be aware of my intersectionality and even embrace it,” she said. “I could speak up and learn and not feel silenced, so I felt encouraged and empowered to be me.”
Her senior year, Moneke decided to pursue a master’s degree in Criminal Justice & Criminology. Again, she set her sights on Georgia State University.
“The faculty is amazing, I had so many opportunities, and now it feels like home,” she said. “So, when I started thinking about graduate school, I didn’t want to leave. This time I only applied to one school, Georgia State, and thankfully, I got in!”
Embarking on her second degree this fall, Moneke will pursue more open-ended career goals this time.
“I’m a person who can go into a room and if I need to scream or be the one who speaks up, I’m willing to,” she said. “I want to be wherever my passion and new knowledge take me – in nonprofits, law, government, the public policy sector, federal agencies, wherever.”
“This desire goes back to what I said to my uncle when I was six. I still remember him asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I want to help people who can’t help themselves,” she said. “Today, I still want to be of service and help people who are marginalized or looked over in whatever capacity I can.”
Story by Sumar Deen ‘21