Campus Life student spotlight

Dance and design

Meet Eke, a sophomore with a lot of experience in uncertainty

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Eke dances with Crewnex and N/A.
Joseph Lee

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Name & Class: Eke M Wokocha, Class of 2020
Areas of Study: Major in Course 4 (Architecture), Minor in Course 15 (Management); Concentration in Course 4 (Art, Culture and Technology — ACT)
Living group: Off Campus Apartment
Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Why did you choose Course 4?

That’s a long story. I applied to MIT for computer science but then became more interested in entrepreneurship. When I came to MIT, I was semi-interested in Course 15. I formatted my freshman year to only include 15-3 (Finance) subjects to see if I would like it — as well as utilize that PNR (Pass/No Record)! . I thought I did, but after spring break, I was talking to my accounting professor, who said, “You clearly have entrepreneurial passion — why are you doing finance?” In spite of what you might think, finance is a very specific field that isn’t always a natural progression into entrepreneurship. This realization, coupled with the fact that I was dancing about 25 hours a week, meant school suddenly seemed less attractive. I wanted to leave MIT, to focus on a visual communication startup I was working with, located in Boston. However, S3 convinced me to simply take a year off instead of cancelling my undergraduate registration.

At the start-up, I met Fatimah Kabba, who was the chief design officer. This is an uncommon role unless you’re within a company as big as Apple. I got to hear about her experiences through art school as well as her perspective on the role that design has in the world — not just to make things look pretty! I decided that to have the impact I wanted to have as an entrepreneur, I wanted to take a design approach instead of a business route. Business focuses on numbers and optimizing equations while design is focused on user experience.

Fatima encouraged me to check out the MIT Architecture Department. So after a discussion with the Course 4 department head and a semester away, I came back to MIT to pursue the brand new pilot Art and Design major. However, over IAP, I had to take an intensive Architecture studio to keep on track with my degree and finally decided to major in architecture since it’s a nice hybrid of math and computer science, as well as art and design.

What’s the difference between art and design?

Art is about self expression, but design is the expression of someone else — you have to adapt to fit the situation and carry through someone else’s specifications. I think the ACT classes I’m taking alongside architecture allow me to think more freely. For example, my current project involves envisioning an island containing structures that can’t be found on earth, such as a 3-D liquid cube. I’m using the same software that Disney uses to create animations, modelling how things on this island interact with each other.

How did you get into dance?

I’ve always loved expressing myself in some visual way. It started as acting when I was younger; then, there was a phase of my life where it was all robotics and school, but I got bored with just that. I’ve been playing flute since third grade, so, in high school, I joined the marching band. That led to color guard, which eventually led me to dance in junior year of high school. I used to think I had to catch up, but then realized that in dance, talent and an early start will only get you so far. It’s all about the time and effort you put into it. You hear stories of people who started at 18 who are now at the top of the game at age 22.

Where do you currently dance?

During freshman year of MIT, I joined MIT Mocha Moves, Ridonkulous and MoveMentality — they’re all different flavours of urban dance. However, I realized that I had to leave collegiate groups if I really wanted to improve, so when I left MIT, I focused on training in local studios around Boston. In the fall, I started auditioning for groups within Boston — now, I’m part of Crewnex and a new debut group called N/A. I like joining multiple groups because, in each one, I grow my skills in different ways. I’ll have one teacher who really emphasises smooth flowy movement and then another who teaches explosive movements. This forces my body to find a distinction between the two to choose to be flowy or more staccato.

What else do you like to do in your free time?

Almost 100 percent of my time is split between school and dance with the occasional after-performance party. In my life, I’m lucky that work, school, and play are almost all the same thing different ways to express creativity. In my free time, I’ll watch 3-D tutorials on better use of 3-D rendering software because I find it so fun to play with right now, although it’s technically school work.   

What do you like best and least about MIT?

I like the fact that MIT allows people to come in undeclared and doesn’t force you into one thing immediately. You still can dive straight in, like I did, and then change your mind. S3 is so used to people wanting to leave — they know you’re going to come back! What I like least is that MIT students get too caught up in what they are doing. I wish people explored more. My photography class is full of juniors and seniors who were looking to take a fun class and then express regret that they didn’t take these classes earlier.

What are you looking forward to over the next two years?

Finding a niche that I can really dedicate all my time into. Right now, my classes are a broad range: photography, graphic design, architecture, and writing. I didn’t want to find it too early, but I also don’t want to stay open forever! I want to say it’s going to be design computation, but I guess I’ll find out.

Would you rather be given $1000 or have a charity of your choice be given $1000?

Definitely the charity. Generally I tend to give money away recently I’ve been trying to donate to dance initiatives in the area. I think Boston has a lot of potential, but it suffers a lot from gentrification, due to all the universities, and there is a huge wealth gap, so I try to give to dance teams who don't have nice practice spaces, etc. Yet, in that case I might have to take it, since I’m not sure that there are official dance charities … Still, the idea is to give the money to someone who would benefit the most from it.

Would you rather be able to detect any lie you hear or get away with any lie you tell?

I feel like I would be a very sad person if I could detect all lies, so I think I would rather be able to get away with any lie I tell. I don't even know if that is something I would use, but I would rather that then having to listen to all these lies!

What one thing would you want to have with you on a desert island?

Probably a sketchbook … but with a pen? I’d probably just make random stuff to occupy my time on the island … so maybe I need a saw instead?

What one value do you prize above all others?
Feeling authentic. I try to avoid doing anything that feels wrong, no matter what the outcome may be. I remember talking about someone’s annoying habits and thinking: Well, how would they feel if they were listening to this? So I rephrased it in a way that I would feel comfortable saying to their face. I’m a big believer in constructive criticism!