The Ohio State University Alumni Association

Affording the inevitable

This engineer-in-the-making always planned on college. A President’s Affordability Grant is just helping with the logistics.

Sakinah Ali

Sakinah Ali wasn’t sure she was even going to be accepted to Ohio State after being wait-listed, then deferred during her senior year of high school. But the day before she reluctantly prepared to send in her acceptance fee to another Big Ten school, she got the good news.

Then this fall, the Dayton, Ohio native — now in her second year — was named one of the first recipients of the new President’s Affordability Grant. Part of President Michael V. Drake’s 2020 Vision and aimed at making college more accessible and affordable, the program provided more than 12,400 undergraduates with $15 million in grants this school year.

“It just kind of happened,” she said of the grant. “It’s allowing me to focus more on school and breathe a little easier.”

Growing up, did you see yourself going to college?

I was raised in a household where college was the only option. I was going to find a way to afford it one way or another. My mom works hard to put me here, and I work hard to make sure her hard work doesn't go in vain.

What does your mom do for a living?

My mom, Carol Mitchell, is a registered nurse for the VA in Dayton. She works in the hospice area. She loves her job.

How did you pay for college last year?

I have some other scholarships and loans. I had a few grants last year. I also worked during second semester and over the summer. I was a peer leader for the university, helping with orientation last summer, and before that I was doing dining service in one of the dining halls.

How has this grant affected your studies?

It’s made paying for college much easier. It’s just me and my mom, so the more money I get, the less I stress about college and her paying for my tuition. I’m also not working this semester. But she’s paying less because of the grant, so it’s one less thing to worry about.

Have you declared a major yet?

I anticipate being able to apply to the engineering school [this] semester. I plan to apply for biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering. Whichever one I get into I am meant to be in, but my No. 1 choice would be mechanical because it’s the broadest.

What are your career aspirations?

At first, I wanted to be a developmental engineer. [Then] I found a new passion for neural engineering with a focus on neural prosthesis.

What does neural engineering entail?

A neural engineer deals with prosthetics for the brain. There’s something called a memory silicone chip being worked on now for people with Alzheimer’s or brain injuries. It would help them retrieve and sort long-term memory. How it’s supposed to do that, I have absolutely no idea. How they can apply that in a living human body just blows my mind. It’s a new field that sounds very interesting.

What is the best experience you’ve had since arriving at Ohio State?

One of my best experiences was joining the National Society of Black Engineers. It’s a tight-knit group. We’re like a family. From the weekly meetings to our business conferences to our cookouts, it’s all a good time. I was at one conference with them and got an interview with Procter & Gamble. I didn’t get the job, but I’m going back next year. It’s opening doors for me.