Ayoko Kessouagni never thought of herself as a “business” person. But after she realized her passion in life is fashion, and that she wants a career in the fashion industry, a business degree started to make sense.

“I was trying to integrate having a set goal in terms of a career path, but also following my passion for what I want to do with my life,” said Kessouagni, a member of the Honors Living-Learning Community (HLLC) at Rutgers University-Newark who is enrolled in Rutgers Business School–Newark and New Brunswick. “I found out I could integrate being a marketing student with having a concentration in the business of fashion.”

Kessouagni’s business school experience got started earlier in the summer through the B-STAR program, which brings a select group of business students together ahead of the fall semester.

“My B-STAR cohort consisted of 24 incoming freshmen from Newark who were enrolled in Rutgers Business School in Newark,” stated Kessouagni, an alumna of American History High School in Newark’s Central Ward. Her B-STAR team met virtually for six consecutive weeks, Monday through Friday, 8:15 a.m. – 7 p.m. “Sometimes the sessions went as long as 8 p.m.,” Kessougni recalled.

Although the classes proved to be long and challenging at times, Kessouagni’s B-STAR experience afforded her the opportunity to help devise the preliminary “bylaws” for a B-STAR executive board. Moreover, through her growing network and guidance from B-STAR faculty and administrators, she landed an internship with a local luxury fashion label for women designed in the United States and sourced and produced in Africa.

“I write blog posts and newsletters to attract more viewership and promote the brand’s identity,” Kessouagni shared.

Understandably grateful for the internship opportunity, Kessouagni also credits the B-STAR program for a smoother transition from her summer experience to the start of her freshman year at Rutgers-Newark. “I now have a much better grasp on how everything works at Rutgers.”

When asked if she could describe her outlook as she starts her Rutgers experience, Kessouagni said if she could use one word, it would be “hopeful.” 

“These days I try to keep an optimistic mindset, and so all I can feel is hopeful for the next coming years that I do well in school, meet more people, and delve into my career choice even more, and that somehow the world works its way into understanding Black Lives Matter and the issues people of color face,” Kessouagni said.

Born in Togo, West Africa, Kessouagni immigrated to the United States with her family before her first birthday and eventually became a U.S. citizen. She often manifests her social justice advocacy through artist expression. The GEM Project, a nonprofit youth enrichment organization in which Kessouagni participated for two years, featured her work in its youth-led art activism exhibit, “Reincarnation of Jim Crow,” in 2018 and on its website.