Jackson State University civil engineering major Yahmir Muhammad recently received the $10,000 HBCU Student of the Year: Changemaker Award sponsored by GEICO. Recipients of the award must showcase how they excel in academic prowess, outstanding service, and overall leadership on their respective campuses or communities for a chance to win the $10,000 scholarship.
“It felt great. I just had so much hope. Sometimes you can see that you’ll win before you win. I had so much hope that I wouldn’t even allow myself to think that it wouldn’t be in my favor,” says Muhammad. “So, when it happened, it was surreal because I had already seen it, but it still feels different when you actually get it in your hands. It’s a moment to say thank you. It was an overwhelming blessing, and I was just grateful.”
Muhammad, a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS), discovered the GEICO scholarship through his advisor Pamala Heard, Ph.D., who is also the director of Honors Students Services & Activities at Jackson State University.
Muhammad says Heard frequently reminds students to apply for scholarships and to check their emails for notifications about opportunities to enhance their academic experience.
“I was so happy for him and excited because he’s a very dedicated student and a member of our Du Bois-Harvey Honors College and NSCS. That was great feedback, and I’m so happy for him and wish him the best in everything he’s doing,” shares Heard, who is also the interim executive director of the JSU Honors College and the advisor for the NSCS chapter on the JSU campus.
Muhammad says Heard assured him that he was the first of her students to ever win this award in her seven years as NSCS advisor, adding that the scholarship is new and the highest NSCS financial award given. Many students from around the country apply.
There are over 300 chapters of the NSCS across the U.S. The JSU chapter was recognized in July 2022 amongst the top ten as a platinum chapter and was previously acknowledged with the highest honor as the diamond chapter last year. The chapter was founded in 2015, with Heard as the chartering advisor. Muhammad was inducted last spring.
“When you have students that are change makers, that’s great because you see that student grow and expand and do so many different things. You want to make sure that you try to give all students an opportunity to do that and show their talent, and when they take advantage of the opportunities, they rise to higher levels. It’s not just local recognition anymore. It’s not just Jackson State. It’s the United States. It’s national, and his name will be out there,” says Heard.
On the NSCS scholarship application, Muhammad says he shared that he is an assistant on the JSU football video coordination and media production team and works with the Bronzeville Foundation, a third-party entity out of Milwaukee that works with small companies to feed the homeless.
“Then, I discussed more of my life, how I grew up, and why it’s so important to me to be successful in life,” he says.
NSCS sent Muhammad an email notifying him that he was a scholarship candidate and would need further interviews.
“I’m getting ready for the interview, and I put on my blue blazer, looking fresh, and I get on the interview, and the GEICO man is talking to me, and he stops everything and says, ‘You look just like Coach Prime with that blazer on.’ We both share a moment of laughter, and shortly after, on the same call, they tell me I’m the winner,” he explains.
Outside of the classroom, Muhammad is finding balance as an entrepreneur. He has aspirations to live in a city where he can thrive as an artist, engineer, and real estate investor. Muhammad says he wishes to remain involved in various campus organizations and serve the community but refuses to limit himself.
“When you have a lot of school work and a lot of time catering to organizations, you still have to make time for yourself. I am Mister Society for Entrepreneurs, an organization that teaches students about entrepreneurship and how to establish an LLC, file taxes, and own a profitable business,” Muhammad says.
He is also involved in the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the W.E.B. Du Bois-Harvey Honors College. He hopes to inspire fellow JSU students who may not usually take the time to apply for scholarships.
Muhammad is currently ranked third in his class amongst other CSET students. He currently pays for school out-of-pocket with financial aid and scholarships. Some scholarships he has received include the JSU VIBE Academic scholarship, the Pasqual Slaughter scholarship, and third-party scholarships.
Heard says she was excited when she discovered that Muhammad would be able to pay for school.
“That made me so happy that he took the time to read all the emails I sent, applied, and was selected. I thought that was a wonderful thing that happened because our students are good at what they do, and a lot of times, our students don’t apply because there’s only one winner selected,” says Heard. “However, I tell students, if you apply, you could be the one, and he showed that he was the one.”
Muhammad thanks his mentor Arvance Owens, Heard, the College of Science Engineering and Technology Department, and his family.