By Eric Addison

The enterprising spirit of NSBE’s founders seems strong in Purdue University’s Aaron A. Banks. The industrial engineering junior is also a quarterback on the university’s Big Ten football team and was recently elected president of Purdue’s student body for 2018–19.
 
Born and raised in Indianapolis, Ind., and proudly African American, Banks credits the National Society of Black Engineers with stoking his passion to make a difference in the world. He talked with us recently about his background and his goals.
 
When did you become interested in engineering?
I’d say back in middle school. I had a science teacher named Ms. Joyal, who really helped me figure out that I had that passion for engineering. We built a bunch of different things in her class. We had the Rube Goldberg assignment, where we built a machine out of scraps. And that’s when I really started getting interested in engineering.
 
What do your parents do for a living?
My dad works at FedEx at the airport. My mom trains agents at Allstate.
 
Are either of them college graduates?
Yeah. My dad graduated in engineering from Concordia University in Wisconsin, and my mom graduated from Indiana University.
 
When did you first become involved with NSBE?
The summer before my freshman year, I participated in a program called the Engineering Academic Boot Camp, and NSBE was a big part of the program.
 
Is that a summer bridge program?
It was basically a summer bridge program. It gets you ready before school starts in the fall, gets you acclimated to Purdue and the rigor of classes. We basically ran through an accelerated version of some typical classes you take throughout first year in engineering. And it really helped me prepare for that first year.
 
You’re a quarterback on the football team, and you’re an engineering major. That’s a lot. How do you handle that combination?
Basically, I just have to be strategic with my time and try to get the most out of my time when I’m studying. I have tutors through football that I utilize…. And I just make sure that I’m not wasting much time when it comes to my studies, so that I still have time to do everything else….
 
And I also just make sure that I surround myself with people who are trying to be successful in the classroom. They help me out with studying and things like that. And I met those people, actually, through NSBE, through that Academic Boot Camp.
 
Now you’re adding student body president. When does your term start?
 I got sworn in on the 11th of April, so my term technically has already started. But I won’t officially start taking action on campus until the start of next semester, and my term runs through the entire academic year.
 
…With everything that I’ve done so far, I’ve learned well what works and what doesn’t work for myself as far as time management. And I feel that I have the tools to maximize my efficiency. And I’m going to need to maximize that efficiency this next school year while I’m serving as student body president.
 
You seem to be a very driven person. What’s your motivation?
My main goal in life is to have a positive impact on many different people and positively impact the world. I have a lot of mentors and a lot of people who have helped me along my path to this point and will continue to help me beyond. I consider myself a forever learner, so being that to many other people, being that mentor to kids like myself who are driven and passionate, a mentor like the ones who helped instill in me that drive and passion about success, that’s my main goal: to keep on moving forward and to keep creating a platform for myself so that I can do that in the future.
 
One article said that as student body president, you plan to “bring attention to what’s happening inside Purdue classrooms.” Can you elaborate on that?
I would say not necessarily in the classroom exclusively. I want to bring attention to what’s going on in Purdue outside the classroom as well. The big thing for me this year is to make sure we build and sustain a very strong Purdue community, through inclusivity regardless of race or background. There are a lot of great things that are happening on Purdue’s campus through the students that I don’t think are being recognized properly right now. One example is entrepreneurship. There are so many great student entrepreneurs on campus, and I want to make sure student government is giving them the recognition they deserve and also helping them in future endeavors….
 
As far as in the classroom specifically, I think that inclusivity and that community built outside the classroom will also enhance the classroom experience students have: collaboration with other students, making sure that “we’re all in this together” type of feeling is felt throughout the Purdue student body.
 
You told us about your start with NSBE. How has your membership helped you?
Creating connections and friendships with other driven individuals who look like me: I value that very greatly. It’s definitely helped motivate me throughout times when school was hard or I was going through things, no matter what they were…. I had that NSBE backing to help lift me through those times, because typically there were people in that NSBE family who were going through similar things. So it’s helped me tremendously throughout my time at Purdue.
 
You’re at a predominantly white institution, but you seem very comfortable in your skin. What was the racial composition of your high school?
I actually went to two different high schools. For my first two years, I went to North Central High School in Indianapolis. There’s a pretty large African-American population at that high school. At the second high school that I went to, the African-American population was much smaller. I went to Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, a fantastic school in Indianapolis that I really thought prepared me well for the college curriculum…. So I was blessed to be able to see two sides of the spectrum. It wasn’t a crazy culture shock when I got to Purdue, that has a fairly small African-American population as well.
 
Did you grow up in an African-American community?
Initially, I grew up in an area that had a very large black population: West 38th Street, Indianapolis. Then we moved to an area when I was in middle school that had fewer African Americans, then, after that, moved back to an area that had a lot of African Americans. But…the sports teams I played on: predominantly African Americans. AAU teams I played on: 90 percent, 95 percent African Americans.
 
So yeah, I definitely grew up predominately around African Americans. And I definitely have a lot of pride in being African American. I love being black…. I’m very proud of it.