For Illinois State University graduate student Ngozi Ukweni, being selected as a Forbes Under 30 Scholar was a dream come true.

Noting it is sometimes easy to set goals but not actually take steps to bring them to fruition, she said, “This was one of those times when you see your goal blossom into a reality and an accomplishment.”

Each year, Forbes magazine selects 1,000 high-achieving undergraduate and graduate students from across the country to receive a scholarship to attend its celebrated Forbes Under 30 Summit. As described on the event’s website, the conference brings together “the future captains of technology, entertainment, finance, fashion, food and philanthropy” for “a life-changing four days of connecting, learning, teaching and building.”

Ukweni heard about the scholarship program in February. The more she learned about it, the more interested she became in being chosen as one of the Forbes Scholars. After undergoing an application process and submitting an essay about leadership and diversity, she was selected to attend the 2019 event, which took place in Detroit, October 27–30.

The summit featured more than 200 speakers, including entrepreneurs, artists, engineers, musicians, CEOs and representatives from the fashion industry. In addition to informative sessions, it also provided attendees with networking opportunities and practical business help, such as professional headshots and resume reviews.

“It was amazing to be in that space and (to be surrounded by a) wealth of knowledge,” said Ukweni, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in business administration with a focus in business analytics and plans to graduate in May. “Being in the same place with scholars from all over the world was very interesting, and having these meaningful conversations and learning from some of these people that have experienced other areas of life was another thing that really stood out for me.”

She particularly enjoyed attending an address by professional tennis player Serena Williams.

“One of the things she said that got to me was this idea of making an investment in yourself and making an investment in other people,” said Ukweni, who expressed appreciation for the investment ISU has made in her own life. She particularly spoke highly of the support and encouragement she received from the College of Business and her professors as she made plans to attend the conference.

Speaking about her experience at the summit, the ISU graduate student recalled hearing a General Motors representative talk about her work with a robotics team made up of girls in their early teens. The educational experience impacted several of the young women’s career aspirations.

“I’m originally from Nigeria,” said Ukweni. “We don’t have a lot of engagement for young people at an early stage, so that’s something I really did enjoy, seeing how when you expose people to information and knowledge it kind of transforms how their life becomes or what they become.”

On the final day of the summit, attendees participated in a community service event. Ukweni shared she is “very passionate about community development” and challenges herself to consider the question, “What value are you adding?” She helped pack and distribute encouraging care packages for boys in the Detroit area.

The ISU graduate student appreciated the emphasis on “giving back to your community” and liked how the project served as a reminder that “you’re fortunate to be on the Forbes list. You’re fortunate to achieve so much in life. You need to take time to give back to others as well.”

All in all, attending the summit was an experience Ukweni highly recommends to others. Whether they choose to apply for next year’s Forbes Under 30 Summit or another event, Ukweni urges her peers to take active steps toward achieving their goals.

“Focus on what you want to do. Learn as much as you can. Ask as many questions as you can,” she said. “Especially for international students, I would say that when you see an opportunity, don’t be afraid to apply for it. I’ve had several opportunities here that I’ve just taken the bull by the horns, and it has really worked out. Also, it’s not just about setting a goal, you need to walk towards it. If you have something you want to do, you know that you have to work hard to prepare for it. That’s just how life is. When hard work meets perseverance, you can accomplish any goal you set out to accomplish. That’s one of the things I learned from this entire experience.”