A young woman with long braded hair wearing glasses and a black t-shirt stands in front of tall coral colored flowers

UMBC’s Haleemat Adekoya, education advocate, is named 2021–22 MHEC student commissioner

Haleemat Adekoya ‘22, political science, is serving as the 2021–22 student member of the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC). The appointment recognizes Adekoya’s community-engaged work connecting students to resources and leading enrichment and leadership opportunities at both K–12 and university levels. 

Adekoya is serving as a voting member of MHEC, which is responsible for establishing policies for public and private colleges and universities across the state of Maryland. She is representing students on MHEC’s Education Policy Committee and Outreach, Grants, and Financial Assistance Committee. 

A woman with long black hair wearing a brown and white polka dot blouse holds a certificate. Behind her is the seal of the state of Maryland. Next to the photo are words describing an award and above that are the words congrats in yellow and gold letters.
Photo courtesy of UMBC’s department of education.

“Representing Maryland’s students is a responsibility that I take very seriously,” says Adekoya. “This work is not about me—it’s a collaboration with students. It’s about building relationships where I trust them to provide information about their challenges and needs and they trust me to take their concerns to the board and advocate for change.”

Bridging gaps

Prior to becoming MHEC student commissioner, Adekoya served as an intern at the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), with the Student, Family, and School Support Committee in 2020–2021. The committee’s work helped implement the state superintendent’s mental health initiative in the Baltimore area. Adekoya informed the design of K–12 programs that enhanced student learning and increased family engagement.

The internship required Adekoya to learn how to listen to and collaborate with teachers, policymakers, community leaders, support service providers, students, and families to meet the needs of Maryland’s public schools—experience she’ll apply to her work with MHEC. She notes that many community members may not be aware of the resources available to them and policymakers may not know the intricacies of schools’ widely variable daily needs. She hopes to help bridge that gap.

“Maryland schools would benefit from the Full-Service Community Schools model to more effectively continue addressing issues of inclusion, equity, and diversity,” Adekoya suggests. “I believe that education is the most powerful tool to change the world.”

Two women walk side by side smiling at each other. The one on the left is wearing glasses and a black t-shirt and the one on the right is wearing glasses and a light blue dress. There are large orange archways behind them.
Adeokoya (L) with Lee (R). Photo courtesy of Marlayna Demond ’11.

“Haleemat is such a strong and compassionate leader. One of the things that inspires me most about her is her commitment to others,” shares her mentor Jasmine Lee, director of inclusive excellence in UMBC’s Division of Student Affairs. 

“She’s not a leader because she’s ‘ahead of the pack’…but instead because she is concerned about everyone making it,” says Lee. “She seems to move from the front to the back, and throughout the middle, empowering everyone to move at their own pace.”

Mentor mindset

While new to this high level of state leadership, Adekoya for years gained experience as a leader in a range of education-focused organizations. In high school, she co-founded Dare2Be, a non-profit empowerment and mentorship program for Baltimore County and Baltimore City girls ages 9–18. She also served as a student member of the Baltimore County Board of Education. 

Adekoya (bottom left) with Dr. Darryl L. Williams, BCPS superintendent, during UMBC’s Celebration of Teaching event in early March 2020.

Inspired by the impact of her work in these roles, Adekoya came to UMBC determined to expand mentoring opportunities for students, which she sees as a powerful way to support students. She joined UMBC’s African Students Association and began Amowara, which pairs first- and second-year students with third- and fourth-year members who can guide them through the academic, professional, and social life at UMBC. 

Adekoya also wanted to continue working with Baltimore City youth. She joined UMBC’s Sherman STEM Teacher Scholars Program. After working as a math tutor and coach at Lakeland Elementary/Middle School, the program selected her as a leader for its virtual summer math initiative

A woman with long curly black hair holds up a flashlight to the camera.
Adekoya teaching virtually during the summer math initiative. Screenshot courtesy of Catalina Dansberger Duque.

She also worked as a leader for Elev8 Baltimore Freedom Schools, an initiative providing middle school students with academic, health, and community support. There, Adekoya helped develop a summer enrichment curriculum for ten Baltimore City Public Schools. She also served as an academic mentor for the Baltimore City Summer Academic Mentorship Program and in various other community-based organizations.

Advocacy and policy

These leadership experiences have helped Adekoya, who is also a Jacqueline C. Hrabowski Scholar, begin moving toward her long-term career goal of becoming an educator and working on education advocacy and policy both in the U.S. and in Nigeria, where she was born. After completing her year as MHEC commissioner and graduating from UMBC, she hopes to begin UMBC’s masters of arts in teaching and continue her work at MSDE and MHEC.

Lee (left) with Adekoya (R). Photo courtesy of Marlayna Demond ’11.

“I see all of my work as a way of helping create a more inclusive and equitable future,” shares Adekoya. “Rather than consider myself someone speaking for all Black people or all students, I see these roles as opportunities to pass around my mic and amplify others’ voices. I want to make space for those coming after me.”

Banner image: Haleemat Adekoya. Photo courtesy of Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.