By: Redessa Harris
From industrial entrepreneur to media maven to head of diversity and beyond, Morgan State University (MSU) has some of the world’s most impressive alumni contributing to all segments of the economy. Earning a degree from Morgan is a sound investment that continues to produce outstanding graduates: alumni who lead and influence the world and whose many positive accomplishments have been acknowledged by MSU President David K. Wilson as “dancing on the world stage.”
Observing various sectors of society invariably leads to a focus on top-rated individuals whose leadership qualities make a profound impact on a multitude of industries. Attending Morgan, with all of its support systems and excellent faculty, has proven to be a major steppingstone to the success achieved by our alumni around the globe.
Morgan has a distinguished history of providing its students with a world-class education and lifelong learning experiences. Well-rounded preparation makes it possible for MSU alumni to compete and win in their chosen professions.
For Morgan’s alumni, “dancing on the world stage” also includes adhering to “the Morgan Way,” the University’s six core values of leadership, integrity, innovation, diversity, excellence and respect. The following profiles highlight just a few of MSU’s many talented and successful graduates.
Duane (“Myko”) Cheers
Watching ABC-TV’s Shark Tank this season introduced the viewing public to entrepreneur Duane (“Myko”) Cheers, chief executive officer of a company, Everything Legendary, that impressed Mark Cuban, one of the billionaire sharks. After the team’s presentation, Cuban offered $300,000 for a 22% interest in the firm, which the company accepted.
A 2009 graduate of Morgan State University with a Bachelor of Science in marketing, Cheers and his two young, African-American partners founded a new-to-the-market company that manufactures delicious, high-quality, plant-based meat alternative burgers in one of the hottest categories of the food industry. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., Everything Legendary targets consumers who have health and/or environmental concerns, as well as Black millennials, who are among the fastest-growing demographics of the vegan population.
Immediately after the Shark Tank airing, the company had the good fortune of selling $250,000 worth of meatless burgers within 24 hours. Says Cheers, the appearance and success on the show, “give us the resources that allow us to position the brand against any competitor, where I know we will win on the flavor and quality.”
With a 7 percentage point win in the Democratic primary election in May 2021 and a resounding victory over his Republican opponent in November, Edward C. Gainey became the first African American elected mayor of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – a city with a population of more than 300,000 residents. He plans to usher in a new vision to the city’s working class that seeks good jobs with a living wage and benefits; affordable housing; public safety measures; and a sense of belonging for all.
A native of Pittsburgh, Gainey has spent a large portion of his career in public service. He was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 2013 and addressed issues that included labor, transportation, education and community development, during his eight-year tenure there. In his previous position as the community development specialist for the city, he implemented programs such as diversity education for the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police; business seminars; the Minority Media Initiative; and The 52 Weeks of Peace Initiative.
Gainey received a Bachelor of Arts in business management from Morgan State University in 1994. He is a board member for the Divine Intervention Ministries and PROMISE organizations.
A powerhouse in legal and compliance matters affecting universities, Aisha Oliver-Staley was appointed senior vice president, general counsel and secretary of New York University (NYU) in January 2021. Oliver- Staley previously served in various roles of expanding responsibility at Georgia Institute of Technology for nearly 10 years; serving as chief ethics and compliance officer and deputy general counsel at the time of her departure for NYU.
Oliver-Staley’s hiring came at a pivotal time, as NYU’s research and entrepreneurial activity is fast expanding. She was recruited because of her expert command of the issues and demands that confront large, complex, research-intensive universities. Oliver-Staley’s legal expertise and experience in higher education positioned her as a strategic partner in achieving NYU’s long-range goals.
A magna cum laude graduate of Morgan in 2002, Oliver-Staley earned a Bachelor of Science in business management at MSU. She also holds a J.D. from Howard University’s School of Law. During her tenure at Morgan, Oliver- Staley served as president of the Student Government Association and as presiding officer of the MSU Judicial Board.
A native of Philadelphia, Jasmine E. Sessoms has spent much of her career in leadership roles for her beloved city and its residents. In 2020, Hilco Redevelopment Partners (HRP) appointed Sessoms senior vice president of Corporate Affairs. HRP is the real estate development unit of Hilco Global that remediates and redevelops complex and obsolete industrial properties.
Sessoms is responsible for oversight of the company’s community and government outreach efforts as HRP executes its plan to clean up and transform the former PES refinery site into an environmentally stable and economically robust commercial hub in her hometown. A well-known figure within city government and political leadership, Sessoms started her career in corporate giving before transitioning to managing executive director of The Mayor’s Fund, where she oversaw $17 million of grants and awards to deliver on the goals of the mayor’s philanthropic priorities.
She formerly served as a government relations officer for the Community College of Philadelphia and founded the political fundraising firm J&S Strategies. Sessoms earned a Bachelor of Science in hospitality management from Morgan in 2006
Nunu Ntshingila-Njeke is regional director for Facebook in Africa, where she is responsible for building the company’s commercial presence across the entire continent. She leads Facebook’s growth initiative from an office outside of Johannesburg, the company’s first office in Africa. Before joining Facebook in 2015, Ntshingila-Njeke was employed at Ogilvy & Mather South Africa for 16 years, holding senior positions of increasing responsibility at the global advertising and public relations agency.
Ntshingila-Njeke attended the University of Swaziland for her undergraduate degree and earned her MBA from Morgan in 1996. The recipient of numerous honors, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award for leading and transforming the advertising business in South Africa. Ntshingila-Njeke was also the first woman inducted into the Loeries Hall of Fame, in recognition of her role in driving creativity in Africa. In 2018, she received the BET Butterfly Award for Passion, Purpose and Persistence. Fortune magazine named her to its International List as one of the Top 50 Most Powerful Women in 2018 and 2019.
An established cybersecurity leader with nearly two decades of experience, Traci McKenzie- Knight was appointed deputy chief information security officer for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in 2020. Before accepting that post, she was the cyber operations lead for GSFC. McKenzie- Knight also served as senior operations planner in the Office of the Inspector General of Homeland Security.
In the private sector, McKenzie- Knight worked as a lead associate for 11 years for Booz Allen Hamilton, a leading professional services company providing a broad range of services and solutions in management, technology, consulting and engineering. She started her career as a web developer for the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.
McKenzie-Knight earned her Bachelor of Information Systems from Morgan in 2002. She also holds an M.S. from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. In addition, McKenzie-Knight received the CCNA and CISM certifications, two of the top-level IT training designations available in the field.
A giant in the very competitive music industry, Samantha (“Sam”) Selolwane was named head of Promotion at RCA Records earlier this year. She oversees the hip-hop, R&B and mixshow formats. Selolwane is a 20-year record industry veteran who has spent 15 years at Sony Music, parent company of RCA. She previously served as senior vice president of Urban Promotion for the label.
Selolwane earned a Bachelor of Science in telecommunications from Morgan in 2000. Renowned as an outstanding executive and a forward-thinking leader who advocates for her artists, Selolwane has been instrumental in shaping the careers of many popular musicians — Usher, Alicia Keys, H.E.R., Miguel and Jazmine Sullivan, to name a few.
Before her tenure at RCA, Selolwane held positions at Jive Records and an independent promotion company, Active Industry Research (A.I.R.). She began her career in radio at Baltimore’s WERQ-FM as an intern and progressed to assistant music director at the station, ultimately hosting a weekly hip-hop show named The Rap Attack.
With a commitment to inclusivity for all, Stanley, Black & Decker recently named Joe Simms as chief diversity officer for its $14-billion-a-year industrial organization. Simms began his tenure at Stanley, Black & Decker in 2013 as vice president of Human Resources for U.S. Sales & Marketing. Before joining the company, he worked in a variety of human resources leadership roles at PepsiCo.
Simms is responsible for championing a broad approach to diversity, equity and inclusion to accelerate company performance for a corporation that employs 61,000 people in 60 countries. In addition, he works to optimize organizational culture and enhance transparency. Simms is also serving as co-chair of Stanley, Black & Decker’s African Ancestry Network and contributed to the company’s “10 Commitments to Racial Equity and Social Justice.”
A 1993 graduate of Morgan with a Bachelor of Science in psychology, Simms continued his education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, earning an M.S. degree in labor and industrial relations.