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From the White House to NASA, WSSU student making strides as HBCU scholar

David Wilson to pitch product to group of scientists

Just three years ago, college wasn’t even on the radar for David Wilson. Though he completed high school in two years, furthering his education was not top of mind.

All that changed when he spoke with two friends from high school who were planning to attend Winston-Salem State University and encouraged him to do the same.

Not only is Wilson now leading the WSSU Campus Activities Board (CAB) as president, but his college experience has landed him at the White House – not once, but twice – and next year he will be headed to California to pitch a product concept to NASA.

This fall, Wilson attended the HBCU Week National Annual Conference as an HBCU Scholar.

David Wilson

The White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity through Historically Black Colleges and Universities announced its ninth cohort of HBCU Scholars this summer. Wilson was among 102 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students from 29 different states and countries for their accomplishments in academics, leadership and civic engagement.

Dr. Jon Kapell, assistant dean of students, recognized Wilson’s civic engagement and leadership on campus and recommended that he apply to become a White House HBCU Scholar. He had already previously visited the White House for an HBCU Press Conference with Vice President Kamala Harris, due to his position as CAB president. WSSU Chancellor Dr. Anthony Graham endorsed Wilson’s application.

“David is a person who works well with others and is able to lead and guide others to become better,” Kapell said. “He inspires those around him to do their best work, and does so with a kind heart, a servant’s soul, and a positive worker’s attitude.”

Attending the national conference and connecting and networking with so many different HBCU students was overwhelming, Wilson said. “I met so many amazing people.”

But the experience gets better.  A critical component of the HBCU Scholar Program is a partnership with NASA to foster innovation and opportunity for the cohorts. This partnership with NASA includes the Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Innovation Tech Transfer Idea Competition (MITTIC) or “Mini MITTIC.” Through the Mini MITTIC program, HBCU Scholars partner with one another to develop ideas to commercialize technology derived from NASA intellectual property (IP) that can improve their campus and surrounding communities.

Essentially, the scholars were divided into groups of about 10 with each group given a small list of NASA IP tools to develop a project. Wilson suggested to his group that they each read up on a single IP tool and pitch to each other to decide which tool the group would choose.

Wilson researched nanosensor technology and pitched to the group his idea to develop a breathalyzer that uses nano sensor technology that could detect different diseases in the body, such as diabetes, and would be able to detect E.coli, Covid, and a series of other conditions.

To his surprise, his group selected his idea, which they would then pitch before a panel of NASA judges at the MITTIC Hack-a-thon.

Pulling from his experience as CAB president, Wilson said he asked the group to work on different parts of their presentation so that everyone would be contributing to the overall success of the pitch. During the presentation to the NASA judges, Wilson said he spoke of the possibilities of the breathalyzer including using it in different environments to collect and gauge different results.

To his surprise again, his idea won the competition and in June, his winning team – dubbed the HBCU Wellness Collective – will travel to Silicon Valley to NASA’s Ames Research Center to pitch the idea to NASA scientists.

“I’m very honored,” Wilson said. “I honestly go to these places, and I can’t even fathom what happens.”

He says God and his mother are his mentors. “God – for the way he articulated this world – is fascinating,” he said, and his mother for instilling in him by example a strong work ethic.

Wilson is a first-generation college student, majoring in mathematics. He is not certain what he wants to do in that field. But he is certain about his short-term goals as a student leader.

He plans to hold a White House Scholar Week next semester on the campus of WSSU. It would include a career goals and aspirations panel discussion; a wellness and mindfulness day; an academic excellence symposium; and an event called State of Mind, to bring awareness to his peers of modern-day racists practices and prejudices. He is also hoping to start a new student organization called Young Excelled Minds.

All of these initiatives are meant to inspire and motivate WSSU students to realize their dreams, just as these experiences have fueled them.

Wilson said he is grateful to have Chancellor Graham’s support through it all.  “I admire him so much. He pushes me and provides me with so much wisdom and advice. He definitely supports me one thousand percent,” he said.

One thing Wilson is clear about is his long-term goal. He has his sights set on the White House again – but this time, as president of the United States.

“There are different layers to me, I’ll say that,” he said.


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