Emmanuel Sogunle ’21 has been awarded the Franko-Maisel Prize for Public Policy, which recognizes an outstanding senior committed to public affairs who intends to pursue a public policy-related career. The $5,000 cash prize is made possible by longtime faculty members Patrice Franko, the Grossman Professor of Economics and Global Studies, and Sandy Maisel, the Goldfarb Family Distinguished Professor of American Government, Emeritus.
Sogunle, an economics and educational studies double major, advocates for education reform and believes policy is the most effective tool to bring about educational equity. “Everyone thinks it’s fundamental, but it’s not treated as fundamental,” he said. Sogunle believes the first step is establishing the baseline that everyone deserves a quality education—no matter race, ability, or gender.
Sogunle has a clear passion for policy, stressed Kimberly Flowers, executive director of Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs, which awards the prize. “He has a path charted in front of him,” she said. “He really wants to look at and build a career reforming the education system from a policy perspective.”
Coming to Colby as a first-year Colby Achievement Program in the Sciences student, Sogunle was initially drawn to a career in STEM. But when he enrolled in an education course, he found where his true passion lay. “I learned about the education system and how it’s framed as a way of social mobility, but oftentimes reproduces inequity,” said Sogunle.
These lessons not only piqued his interest but also prompted him to reflect on his own experiences. Born in Nigeria, Sogunle grew up in Denver, Colo., where he had just one Black teacher and encountered biases in the classroom. He couldn’t name them at the time but recognizes them now. “You find a lot of things in education like immigration, discrimination, segregation—it’s all types of -isms,” he said. “So it felt like a great place to work on all of them in one place.”
When he returned to Nigeria the summer after his first year at Colby, his commitment to education strengthened. He visited a local school, where his uncle worked, and met students thirsty to learn and succeed despite lacking basic tools, such as pencils, erasers, and compasses. Disheartened but determined, he and his two older sisters started to raise money and send students backpacks full of school supplies. This year, the siblings hope to mail 50 backpacks from the United States to Nigeria.
In summer 2018, he participated in the National Society of Black Engineers’ SEEK summer program, teaching kids STEM skills. “It made me want to continue learning about education and also just work with students,” he said. Sogunle witnessed what students can do when given the opportunity and realized that hands-on experience is crucial for delivering effective policy change.
Later, at a Goldfarb Center event, he found a role model in Jeffery Robinson, the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) deputy legal director and director of its Trone Center for Justice and Equality. The encounter was eye-opening, Sogunle said, and motivated him to find an internship with the ACLU Maine.
While there, he helped design a Youth Advocacy Summit for high school and college students and researched education bills passed and proposed in Maine. “I love how the ACLU combines advocacy, litigation, and policy, and uses them to make change, make an impact,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do—shape my career out of utilizing all those elements to achieve impact.”
As the first step in that direction, he will spend the next two years in Dallas, teaching fourth-grade math through Teach for America and pursuing a master’s in education policy at Southern Methodist University. His long-term goal is to attend law school.
When he learned he’d won the Franko-Maisel Prize, “I was internally bouncing off the walls,” he said. “It seemed really affirming that all the work I’ve done has meant something.” The prize money will support him in preparing for law school, and he’ll use a portion of it to purchase supplies for his backpack project.
Flowers noted that the way Sogunle plans to use the award money is a real testament to his character. So is his desire to join the field of public policy. “He’s taking his personal experience and using the skill sets he already has to create a career that will be transformative to shift the experience for others,” said Flowers.
“He saw something that he knew wasn’t right, didn’t feel good, and negatively impacted the people around him, and I’m sure himself, and said, ‘I can change this.’ That’s what you want from a Colby graduate—someone who can look at something and say, ‘How do I make this better?’”