FAMU alumna prepared college students for the future

Florida A&M University professor Zakiya Muwwakkil Akerele founded an awareness campaign called Degrees of Separation which focuses on the unemployment and underemployment of black college students post-graduation.  
Photo Courtesy of Degrees of Separation

There are a multitude of reasons why students have trouble finding employment after graduation. The reasons include a loss of interest, student loan debt, and not having enough experience on top of various other reasons.

In order to combat these challenges, Florida A&M University professor Zakiya Muwwakkil Akerele founded an awareness campaign called Degrees of Separation, which focuses on the unemployment and underemployment of black college students post graduation.

Determined to make a change, Akerele expressed how she worked to remind students of their value.

“Their human capital alone has helped open doors for them, taking the initiative of their career in their own hands, and not just waiting for something to happen,” Akerele said. “This is what Degrees of Separation is all about.”

DOS started in 2012 when Akerele was a recent graduate with her doctorate degree and having trouble finding full-time employment that required the skill level that she had.

When starting this movement, it was never her intentions to focus solely on African-American graduates. Her goal was to bring awareness of all postgraduate problems to current students and recent grads that are unaware of what may happen. Over the course of her research, she began to discover the struggle African-Americans graduates in particular faced and their lack of preparation for the challenges of the job market.

According to a study done the Center for Economic Policy and Research, nearly 56 percent of African-American college graduates are working in jobs that don’t require their level of education. Wages for black women with college degrees are 12.3 percent less than their white counterparts. Black men's hourly wages went from 22.2 percent lower than white men in 1979 to 31 percent lower in 2015.

In an article published by the Washington Post, only 27 percent of all college graduates secure jobs that are related to their career of interest after graduation, and only 4 percent of those graduates are black.

In order to get the most out of their college degree, students are encouraged to network, get involved and obtain work experience. Akerele detailed how the campaign taught participants how to develop a plan that works for them.

“The impact of DOS has allowed my mentees to look beyond their fields to other see other opportunities,” Akerele said. “Their mindsets should be what do I know, what skills do I have, and who do I know that could help me get in the door?”

DOS has helped provide different trainings, workshops and keynotes to ensure there are more career opportunities and overall opportunities for black college graduates. This semester, DOS plans to release a documentary to showcase the work being done to close the post graduation employment gap.

DOS mentee Cameron Montgomery expressed he has always a pretty good idea of where he wanted to go in the future, but was not very strategic. He noted the campaign has helped him develop his skills for post graduation life.

“DOS has shown me how to navigate the higher education system, to be strategic about financially planning my life and has taught me skills to prepare for life after college,” Montgomery said. “I see kids who felt hopeless about their situation, asking how will they get out of poverty? She knows how to give them back their confidence and willingness to succeed.”

DOS’s mission is to create lasting solutions to the issues of unemployment and underemployment among black college graduates through the promotion of career sustainability and entrepreneurship development. Overall, only time will tell the impact this campaign and Akerele will have on students in the years to come.