Aku Acquaye is way more than a Political Economy student at Barnard College. She’s a Student Admissions Representative, the Operating Committee Leader in Columbia’s Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs, a mentor and curriculum writer with The WomanHood Project, a three-year member of the Student Government Association, an orientation leader, and the co-chair for Barnard’s Glass House Rocks event. Those are just her on-campus involvements; she was also was a member of AAUW’s National Student Advisory Council, and participated in a 2 week teaching program in Japan with HLAB. How does she balance all of her commitments? “I don’t always do the best job of managing multiple things at once,” she admits, but she does make sure to not overcommit herself, take a breath and some time off when she needs it, and always practices self-care.
During her first year at Barnard College, Aku was elected President of her class through student government, which inspired her to get involved in many of the organizations she’s a part of now. This position also gave her the opportunity to manage a council as well as plan and execute events, which then sparked her interest in management and leadership. “I realized I enjoyed managing teams, projects, timelines, and being in charge of all of these aspects,” she says about the experience. “It was from then on that I realized in the future I wanted to continue being an executive manager in a sense, creating novel things that interested me but benefited others.” She quickly learned that entrepreneurship provided her the opportunity to combine her passions for leadership and innovation.
As an Athena Scholar at Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership Studies, Aku learned of a scholarship available to attend one of PLEN’s six annual seminars. She decided to attend the PLEN Women in Business Policy seminar (now known as Women in Corporate and Nonprofit Leadership,) in the hopes of learning about the intersection of entrepreneurship and politics. As a Political Economy major, Aku was looking for careers in which she could use her leadership and management skills, and better understand policies that contextualize the environments in which entrepreneurship and business is possible. During the seminar, she learned about the intersection of policy, entrepreneurship, and management, and was inspired by the panelists she heard from.
One speaker in particular stood out for Aku. “I really appreciated Jona Van Deun’s lighthearted take on life,” she recalls. “She was a woman who had jumped around career wise, but in doing so refused to stay somewhere where she felt unfulfilled in the work she was doing.” Hearing about Jona’s journey reminded Aku that it’s infrequent that people actually have a linear career path, and taught her that “there’s something exciting in leaving a place of comfort and exploring something new.”
In addition to her involvements on and off campus, Aku has also partnered with two other Barnard students, Veronica Suchodolski and Angela Zheng, to create and manage The Gender Equality Project: a blog dedicated to exposing inequality that women experience in the workplace. During her sophomore year, Aku met an administrator who worked in finance and shared her experience of always feeling “not invited to the joke” when around her coworkers. Inspired by this story and Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, Aku decided to combine similar anecdotes and put faces to the background workplace research and data. Through The Gender Equality Project, she is able to interact with and gain new perspectives from women who work in a wide variety of sectors.
Now in her senior year, Aku is continuing to live by her favorite Maya Angelou quote: “The question is not how to survive, but how to thrive with passion, compassion, humor, and style.” She is now studying for the GRE and applying for Master’s Programs. Although she’s still figuring out her next steps- possibly staying in NYC to pursue a career in consumer products consulting, entrepreneurship, or women’s rights- meeting PLEN speakers like Jona showed her the excitement of not always a concrete plan.
Learn more about the careers available at the intersection of entrepreneurship and politics at the Women in Corporate and Nonprofit Leadership seminar! If you know a student like Aku, recommend her to learn more about PLEN and start her policy career.
By Hayley Humiston • 2017