(JACKSON, Miss.) — With a 4.0 GPA in physics and graduate school offers from five elite institutions, Jaylon Uzodinma could one day become a household name for aerospace engineering just as his violinist older brother is poised to become for his stellar performances.
The graduating senior in Jackson State University’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology will earn his bachelor’s degree during the 2020 commencement ceremonies.
Uzodinma has been interested in designing aircraft since he was 8. He loved math and engineering and saw physics as a bridge between both. He has soared through the rigorous academic demands at JSU, maintaining a perfect GPA.
This has allowed him to apply and be accepted into five elite academic institutions: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, North Carolina A&T, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Michigan and Stanford University. He still hasn’t made a final decision.
While he has no plans of becoming a licensed pilot, he envisions creating an initiative to increase the number of blacks in his future professional career as an aerospace engineer. Beyond his specific area, he wants to encourage young people to pursue degrees in all other STEM disciplines, too.
“Sadly, there are not a lot of black aerospace engineers.” In fact, he notes, “African Americans make up only 4 percent of aerospace engineers in the U.S. I want to contribute to increasing that number.” He’ll do that while working in the aerospace industry and devoting time to mentor high school students, or as a university professor.
Now, though, he has his sights on one day using his aerospace and technology expertise to design commercial jetliners with significantly less carbon dioxide emissions.
With aviation we can travel across different continents; we can go across water; we can go across regions. So, the reason I want to design aircraft is to push the aviation industry toward becoming completely environmentally sustainable,” Uzodinma said.
The 22-year-old Madison resident added, “So, we take a typical commercial jet from Atlanta to L.A. Across that four-hour flight, you have engines that are going to have really, really bad emissions like carbon dioxide. If we have this flight occurring multiple times a day and all other flights happening across the U.S. each day and throughout the world, it’s very damaging to the environment.”
Quoting from research, Uzodinma said, “Each year airlines worldwide emit nearly 800 million tons of carbon dioxide. And, there’s an expected growth from 2.4 billion airline passengers in 2010 to the point where in 2050 we’re going to have 16 billion passengers.”
In addition, he said, “There needs to be much more work geared toward this research aim, especially with the expected growth of the industry.”
For now, however, he’s focused on graduating during this year and celebrating with his family. He said earning summa cum laude status resulted from setting a high bar at JSU, which has become a family tradition that traces back to 1964.
That’s when his grandfather from Lagos, Nigeria, accepted a job at JSU and rose to become chair of the biology department. He retired in 1992.
Today, the Dr. John Eze Uzodinma Microbiology Lab inside the John A. Peoples Engineering Building is named in his honor.
Reverently, Jaylon gives a lot of credit for his successes to his parents, both of whom are 1987 JSU alums. His mother, a Jackson native, studied accounting, and his father, born in Iowa City, Iowa, earned a degree in computer science. They have only two sons, Jaylon and John.
Jaylon said, “I feel like my parents always instilled in us that we could be the best in whatever we were doing. I can remember heading to elementary school in the car, reading the Daily Bread and constantly being told you’re blessed because you were given eyes to see, ears to hear and a brain to comprehend and understand. No one is better than you, and you can do whatever you want to do in life.”
He said his parents invested in his dreams and those of his brother John, a musical virtuoso, who is three years older. They are both in the Hall of Fame at Madison Central High School and are believed to be the only siblings to have accomplished this feat.
Along with this, Jaylon recently received even more good news. He was selected by the National Science Foundation as the recipient of a prestigious, competitive Graduate Research Fellowship. Students are allowed only two attempts to apply, but Jaylon was successful on his first try.
For a while there, it may have seemed Jaylon existed in the shadows of his musically gifted brother. And, to some degree, he did. Teachers connected them because of their surname and because John excelled academically, too. As a result, many teachers expected the same from Jaylon. And, he did not disappoint.
Despite the fact that they are “polar opposite” – John the violinist and Jaylon the athlete – academic expectations didn’t change, Jaylon said. They successfully balanced their studies and extracurricular activities.
“One thing we do have in common is our pursuit of excellence. John set the standard from elementary to middle school to high school. That pushed me.”
Meanwhile, he describes John as “insanely talented. He deserves to be well-renowned. He works really hard, posts a lot on Facebook and plays at many functions locally and throughout Mississippi. My brother definitely deserves to be on the world stage.”
Jaylon regrets not being able to attend his older brother’s LSU performances on school nights. “But, John plays enough around the house that I hear him all the time.” Still, Jaylon hopes to continue pursuing excellence like John, who’s now working on his doctorate in musical arts at the University of Southern Mississippi.
As Jaylon prepares to select a school to begin his master’s studies, he’s unclear when he’ll start because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I had envisioned enrolling sometime in August. Now, I don’t know if that’ll be possible.” He said he’s left grappling with what appears to be a changed world leading to his future career.
“This is so unexpected,” said Jaylon, acknowledging that the aerospace industry is also taking “a massive hit. People, aviation and the mechanical industries are all being affected. I hope we will get past this over the next several months.”
Despite the grim situation right now, he wants those in high school and college to maintain their pursuit toward excellence. “If you set a really, really high standard and accept nothing but the best, you’ll succeed,” Jaylon said.
He said Jackson State provided him the opportunity to “matriculate and succeed academically. Anytime I went to a summer research program I definitely wanted to represent Jackson State well because of my family history with the institution,” Jaylon said.
He said as a kid “I can remember crying when the football team would lose a game. I’ve been blue and white my entire life.”