INSTITUTION: Bowie State University, a 5,500-student university located in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Founded in 1865, it is one of the 10 oldest HBCUs in the nation and is part of the University System of Maryland.

HOMETOWN: New York City

MAJOR: English Education

Growing up, Imani Burke had the heart of a teacher. She devoured books and liked to tutor her peers and help her teachers grade student work.

“A pivotal role that teachers played for me was mainly in my English classes because I feel like English, with linguistics and language and writing, as well, that was really helpful with expressing yourself,” Burke said. “I feel like more students need to kind of get into that.”

HOW SHE CHOSE HER HBCU: Lewis had planned to attend her mother’s HBCU alma mater, Morgan State University. But when Burke discovered Bowie State, she felt embraced by the campus. “I felt like I was already a student” even before the first visit, she said.

“It’s very family-oriented, which I think is one of the greatest perks of a small campus and also an HBCU,” Burke said. “I’m surrounded by people that I can share similarities with and I feel represented by.”

EDUCATION-CAREER CONNECTION: Even as a first-year student, Burke sought out multiple ways to pursue her passion for teaching. She worked at Bowie State’s Summer Undergraduate Research Initiative, where she helped education professors research how to improve freshman retention rates at HBCUs. She also is a campus writing tutor, a tour guide, and will spend her sophomore year as a resident assistant.

“I can do something within my major. I can help out others now,” Burke said. “So I’m getting kind of like an idea of what I want to do as a teacher.”

THE POWER OF A NETWORK: Many of Burke’s opportunities have emerged from relationships she built with Bowie State faculty and staff. When giving campus tours to high school students, she tries to pass on what she has learned.

“The teachers aren’t going to hold your hand when you get to college. You’re going to need to come into yourself,” Burke said. “And even though it may be uncomfortable, you need to be uncomfortable to get comfortable at some point. So you need to kind of step into that and network. That’s one thing I really learned when I got here.”

ON BEING A STRADA SCHOLAR: Burke describes herself as shy, explaining that she typically likes to “chill back” in new situations and not ask too many questions. Being selected as a Strada Scholar, she said, gave her confidence to open up to her peers and campus leaders to grow a network, and to learn from others.

“I was able to see other students part of this initiative as well and see them, and that kind of projected onto me. I can have the self-confidence, too,” Burke said. “I’m growing, like, right before my own eyes and before anybody else’s eyes.”