When Niko Simpkins ’18 thinks of his time at Baylor, he remembers playing on the basketball team, making music with friends and rising to the challenges of the classroom.
Today, Simpkins is a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania, completing his major in Mechanical Engineering and minor in Engineering Entrepreneurship. “When I first came to Baylor,” Simpkins recalls, “I was not the best kid in my math class. So now, I look back and think, ‘Okay if I can go to Penn’s Engineering School, do well, and graduate, then there’s never going to be a point in my life where I can tell myself I can’t do something.’” The degrees, he notes, will open doors in countless industries: “With engineering, you have the STEM opportunities as well as possibilities to work in business and finance, so it’ll allow me to leave with a lot of tangible skills.”
In addition to his rigorous course load, Simpkins is constantly finding avenues to provide others with resources and help that are similar to the support that he received throughout his own education. As the president of the Underrepresented Student Advisory Board in Engineering (USABE), Simpkins promotes dialogue and community among engineering students to provide actionable initiatives to the school’s dean. “It’s really interesting to see the problems that people face at the school – both the students and the administration -- and to look at the decisions people make to solve them,” Simpkins explains. “It’s been a crazy honor to lead USABE.” His academic insight and personal experience also make him an asset to the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). As Corporate Relations Chair of NSBE, Simpkins helps to plan events that often allow him and his peers to make connections with professionals from tech companies to investment banking firms.
Many of the biggest takeaways of my education weren’t even in the classroom. They were the in-between moments on campus -- in the music building, in a teacher’s office – that have benefited my life in ways I can’t even put into words.
Simpkins’s commitment to student advocacy leads him beyond the realm of engineering as he reaches out to other students at the university, which is how he became an ambassador for the Weingarten Center – Penn’s center for tutoring, disability services, and academic support for both undergraduate and graduate students. “I’m able to advocate for learning diversity and to connect students with resources that they don’t even know are there.” Simpkins notes that all too often, though, the help students need is not always accessible – a main motivator for his role in Invenium: a STEM equity and innovation initiative in Philadelphia that expands learning opportunities for students in the city. He was appointed to work on this project with a Penn professor with whom he built a strong relationship through his teaching assistantship.
Similar to his relationship with mentors and professors at Penn, Simpkins’s relationships with Baylor teachers helped him find success in the classroom long before he began his mechanical engineering degree. “What so many Baylor teachers share in common is that they allowed me to be who I was going to be and were welcoming and inviting of that. For example, Mr. (Chris) Watkins cared about what was going on outside of class, and he brought the books to life in class. Profé [Elijah Anderson-Barrera] was amazing as well – he was so intentional about the way he taught his classes and interacted with the subject matter. Linda Cooke was always on my side and advocated for me. Many of the biggest takeaways of my education weren’t even in the classroom. They were the in-between moments on campus -- in the music building, in a teacher’s office – that have benefited my life in ways I can’t even put into words.”
Though Simpkins does not yet know what life will look like after graduation, he continues to draw from his educational experiences and make an impact in his community. Simpkins is spending his final undergraduate summer as a Process Development Engineering Intern at Boston Scientific before completing his senior year at Penn.