Princess Allotey: From Achimota School To Addressing Centre College’s Honors Convocation

Princess Allotey (image via Centre College)

Princess Allotey, an international student from Ghana, was selected as one of the two keynote speakers to address Centre College‘s Honors Convocation held virtually on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. The second keynote speaker, Pearl Morttey, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to Ghanaian parents.

Remarks from the speakers, who are selected by tallying votes from the senior class, are always a highlight of the annual celebration of student achievements. The programme also included the announcement of major campus prize recipients, as well as the recipients of programme prizes and inductees to academic honorary societies.

Princess Allotey (image via Centre College)

Princess is a double major in mathematics and data science with a minor in education. She is a Lincoln Scholar, John C. Young Scholar, co-founder and president of Centre’s Black STEM Coalition, a Student Judiciary member, Student Advancement Board member and a senior interviewer and ambassador in the College’s admission office. She also served on the Poverty and Homelessness Committee and the International Student Association. Following graduation, she will be pursuing a PhD in mathematical sciences at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

She is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) enthusiast and prior to pursuing her bachelor’s degree at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, Princess was involved in projects and activities that sought to encourage basic school kids to develop an interest in STEM education.

After completing her senior high school education at Achimota School in 2014, Princess founded Kids and Math, a youth-led educational organization, that seeks to help kids realize and appreciate the versatility of Mathematics. Under her leadership, Kids and Math has recruited over 100 youth volunteers to teach over 600 basic school kids Mathematics through hands-on learning; with chapters in Accra, Navrongo, Kumasi, Akatsi and Koforidua.

Princess Allotey [middle] at a summer enrichment experience in Guatemala (image via Centre College)

She has also volunteered at American Field Service- Ghana and was a participant in Project IsWEST 2014, organized by Nsesa Foundation. She was also a participant in the Young African Women’s Congress 2016 and the Ghana Youth Social Entrepreneurship Competition 2017 organized by GhanaThink Foundation in partnership with Digital Opportunity Trust- Canada. She has been featured in the book Mindshift by award-winning author, Dr Barbara Oakley.

Princess Allotey speech is a very interesting one. She spoke about her journey from Ghana to the U.S, the various experiences in her academic journey and other interesting life experiences and lessons.

Read Princess Allotey’s speech titled: “Be Prepared: Luck is Where Preparation Meets Opportunity”

It is an honor to deliver a speech at Centre’s 2021 honors convocation. I am grateful to the staff, faculty, and students who made this convocation possible. I am happy that my mother, Theresa, and my siblings Prince, Theophilus and Parry are watching this from our home in Ghana.

The title of my speech was inspired by a recent discussion with my Centre friend Eli Gooch about graduate school. He suggested I watch “The Last Lecture,” an inspirational lecture by Professor Randy Pausch, who was battling cancer and had at most five months to live. He was a computer science professor from Carnegie Mellon University. His message was, “Be Prepared: Luck is Where Preparation Meets Opportunity.”

When we think about our journey, we realize it consists of a series of moments. I have three themes representing some of my remarkable moments.

These are:

1. Going outside the comfort of my continent
2. Recognizing opportunities disguised as new ideas
3. Breaking the glass ceiling

Let’s walk this journey together, as I explore the moments that have shaped my Centre experience.

Going down memory lane, do you remember when you got accepted into Centre, where you were and how you reacted to the admissions decision? When I read Dean Bob Nesmith’s email that I had been named a Lincoln Scholar, I was sitting in a bus with my mother in Ghana. It was the first day of the week. We were heading to the capital city Accra to purchase foodstuffs. After reading his email, I felt a sort of relief. I knew that the effort I invested into my college search had not been in vain. It signified the dawn of a new era. To put this into perspective, the yearly cost of public tertiary education in Ghana is approximately 2,500 Ghana cedis—which is a little over 400 U.S. dollars. And for this reason, I get excited whenever I see the Lincoln statue because of the quote, “I will study and get ready and someday my chance will come.” My preparations led me to this opportunity—the opportunity to study at Centre.

But I was giving up something. I would be going to a country 6,000 miles away. I would be going outside the place I spent my life growing up, schooling and eating Ghanaian food. The weather was going to be different. I had never had to wear a winter coat before coming to Centre. The lowest temperature recorded in Ghana was about 50 degrees fahrenheit with a high of a 100 degrees fahrenheit. But do you know what I was most excited about? Snow! But I quickly realized how cold it gets when it snows. As a side story, my host parents J.H. and Artie have these moments where they text me whenever it snows and ask, “It snowed today. Are you going out?” And then I say, “No. Too cold. I wanted to see snow, but it was more than I expected.” Another remarkable memory was going trick-or-treating with Professor Heath’s family in my senior year—that was my first-time celebrating Halloween.

These last four years have been some of the most challenging and also the most exciting. When I came to Centre, I wanted to make the most of my experience. I expanded beyond Centre through my study abroad experiences in Guatemala, Singapore, and the UK—traversing continents while teaching, conducting research, getting published and making some remarkable memories. When I came to campus in August 2017, I was the only international student from Sub-Saharan Africa. I saw my time here as an opportunity to learn about the backgrounds of my classmates, roommates and all my friends: students from multiple geographic, socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds I had probably not been exposed to.

My second theme is that opportunities come to us disguised as new ideas and challenges. And when we grab them, and make the most of them—they become legacies. Last summer, I had a conversation with Will Britt, a senior computer science and data science student on the football and basketball teams. We discussed starting a student organization for Black students in STEM. We had so many questions and some potential challenges.

1. Will there be much interest, especially during a pandemic?

2. How do we grow this idea in addition to the intense academic atmosphere already present at Centre?

3. And also, what do we call this initiative?… We named it the Black STEM Coalition.

We formed a community of about 20 students and developed a constitution, a website, a podcast series led by Josh West and reached out to Dean Ellen Goldey to serve as faculty advisor. One of my most cherished moments as president of the Black STEM Coalition was the opportunity to plan a convocation on STEM this spring semester. I collaborated with two first-years, Temi Haastrup and Sharon Mega, Dean Ellen Goldey, and Professor Demoranville to make this possible.

My third theme is breaking the glass ceiling. Sometimes, when opportunities come our way—and even when we are prepared—the environment we find ourselves in might affect our ability to make the most of these opportunities. This is where we strive to break the glass ceiling. I developed my interest in math while schooling in Ghana. In Grade 6, even though the only resources my 65 classmates and I had were textbooks, shared desks, and a blackboard with no access to computers, I felt a great sense of accomplishment solving challenging problems in geometry and statistics. So, when I came to Centre, I knew I wanted to study math. However, I did not know that Black women were underrepresented in STEM fields in the U.S. I grew up in a predominantly Black country where we more of us identified ourselves by our ethnic groups or tribes—and that is another story to tell someday. During my first week in Calculus 1, I quickly realized that I stood out—that I looked different from everyone else in my class. I got nervous and felt like an imposter. I am happy to share that I eventually tutored Calculus 1 during my sophomore and junior years, and then Calculus 2 throughout my senior year at Centre. Secondly, navigating college as a first-generation college student was another challenge. It is a little overwhelming that I will be starting a math Ph.D. three months from now.

Who would have ever thought that this girl, who grew up around limited educational resources, would one day be educated at two top-ranking and prestigious private schools in the U.S.—Centre College and Carnegie Mellon University?

Finally, as we work to leave a legacy, we cannot forget that we are not in this alone. Having a Centre family can be very powerful. I developed a connection with friends and colleagues I considered my Centre brothers, Centre sisters, Centre mums, and Centre dads. For instance, I was excited when my friend John Roach declared a math major, because at least I knew someone I could talk about math with. Professor Sarah Murray, J.H. and Artie Atkins, Elizabeth Graves, and Robert and Mayumi Schalkoff welcomed me into their homes during the summer and winter breaks to discuss and reflect on my past semesters. My Centre family has greatly influenced my Centre journey.

Going back to the title of this speech, “Be Prepared: Luck is Where Preparation Meets Opportunity,” I expanded my horizons at Centre, traversing continents to explore the world. Oh, how lucky and fortunate I have been! But this luck was not by accident. This luck is something I created. I was willing to leave the comfort of my own continent, be open to new ideas, and to break the glass ceiling.

For the outgoing Class of 2021, my message is: It is essential that we strive to position ourselves outside our comfort zones, in places where we consider our wildest dreams, and to take full advantage of opportunities disguised as new and challenging ideas.

For many of you, the Centre journey continues. And as you go through your Centre moments, know that you have people to journey with. People who can influence your little moments. So, I leave you with three questions:

1. What do you want your legacy to be?

2. How will you create these legacies?

3. And, lastly, how will you support others to create their own legacies?

Thank you for your attention, and I wish you all the best!


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