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Finance student receives $1,000 scholarship at Ally, Thurgood Marshall competition

2019 RJT Byline

Finance major Damian Murray now has a $1,000 scholarship and a pair of Beats by Dre headphones after being named “Most Outstanding Student” at the “Moguls in the Making” competition hosted by Ally Financial, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and Big Sean, Grammy Award-nominated rap artist, in Detroit last month. The scholarship prize is the same amount awarded to the first place winners.

“I was shocked. I didn’t expect it, and to be honest, I don’t like to be the center of attention, so I didn’t know what to think. But overall, it was really a blessing,” said Murray, who is spending the summer working at Google.

Murray and four other JSU students – Lasonya “LaLa” Walton, marketing major; Jasmine B. King, political science major; Shanice Hopson, computer science major; and Zacchaeus Simmons, industrial technology major – were among 50 students from 10 HBCUs pitching business plans that proposed solutions to economic issues impacting a variety of industries in the Motor City.

JSU students -- (left to right) Damian Murray, finance major; Lasonya “LaLa” Walton, marketing major; Jasmine B. King, political science major; Shanice Hopson, computer science major; and Zacchaeus Simmons, industrial technology major, recently competed in a pitch competition in Detroit. They all agreed that they would do it again in a heartbeat. (Photo special to JSU)

JSU students — (left to right) Damian Murray, finance major; Lasonya “LaLa” Walton, marketing major; Jasmine B. King, political science major; Shanice Hopson, computer science major; and Zacchaeus Simmons, industrial technology major, recently competed in a pitch competition in Detroit. They all agreed that they learned valuable lessons and would do it all over again in a heartbeat. (Photo special to JSU)

The group spent the weekend at Microsoft Corp. attending various workshops, panels and, of course, working on their idea. Each team could not select a topic until the first day of the competition where they then chose a subject predetermined by event sponsors. However, each group also had one opportunity to steal another team’s theme if desired. When the smoke cleared, the JSU students created “313GO,” an automotive, logistics and transportation app.

“It showed all the different transportation systems in Detroit and the quickest and cheapest method for people to arrive at their destination,” explains Walton.

Upon completion, Murray and Walton pitched their team’s idea to the judges, who included Big Sean. Simmons and King agreed that Murray and Walton were dynamic in their presentation and praised their teammates in a show of pride and camaraderie.

“Every question the judges asked, Damian had an answer for it just like that,” said Simmons. “I felt like they needed to give him something. If we couldn’t win as a team, at least he deserved something.”

Despite not claiming the No. 1 spot, King said the trip allowed her to enhance her coding abilities, which she and Hopson used in the creation of “313GO,” entrepreneurship and team-building skills.

Simmons acknowledged that the competition pushed his brainstorming capabilities to another level. “One of our mentors had us sitting in a room all day pressing us for ideas. We were writing the same stuff over and over and over again until we thought of something new,” he said. “That helped me sort out my thoughts and ideas. It forced me to think.”

Hopson shared that she learned how to expand and improve her entrepreneurial mindset and the do’s and don’ts of pitching a business model. “The competition was a brilliant experience, and we represented JSU well,” she expressed.

Overall, Murray said, when people can come together as a team “awesome” ideas are generated. “I also learned what I could bring to the table. I am grateful for the entire experience.”