Salve Success: Donnie Aikins ’23, mathematics major and international student
Donnie Aikins ’23 is an international student from London, England, who chose to attend college an ocean away from his life and family. Aikins intentionally wanted to step out of his comfort zone and force himself to grow, exemplifying the courage that will help him in future careers and roles.
“In order to grow, there has to be a certain level of discomfort,” said Aikins of his journey to choosing the U.S. for college. “I understood that, so I decided to go to a whole different country to be in a state of discomfort just so that I could grow and rely on my independence.”
Personal growth through discomfort
Aikins noted that he didn’t want to rely on his parents during college and that it was really important to him that he learned to manage his time and hectic schedule on his own.
“I also do this with intent of encouraging those back at home and those around me: trust yourself, take that risk, don’t let fear distract you,” he said. “Fear was a huge thing that I had to battle and still do. But the most important thing is to take that first leap.”
Basketball is another big part of what brought him to this country. Back home in England, his high school basketball coach was a native of Atlanta and inspired him to play and continue his career in college. Aikins had seen a lot of his friends attend American universities on basketball scholarships, and he wanted to challenge himself on the collegiate level as well.
For Aikins, the decision to come to Salve Regina out of all of the American universities being advertised back in England was simple. It was really important for him to find a school with an organized, responsive, and respectful international student relations department. Salve Regina met his needs. Aida Neary, the assistant director of the International Students and Exchange Partner Programs, was one faculty member who was particularly helpful to him.
“In terms of international student relations, I would say that Salve was the most responsive and respectful towards international students,” he said. “I would send them an email one day, and I’d get a response from Aida Neary the next day, or even the next couple of hours.”
Once Aikins was in Newport, adjusting to a new school in a new country was a matter of how much he pushed himself out of his comfort zone to get involved on campus and meet new people. Aikins is a member of the men’s basketball team, as well as the treasurer of both the International Student Club and the Black Student Union (BSU).
“In terms of adjusting to the whole American scene, I just had to put myself out there,” he said.
Seeking opportunity during the pandemic
The travel restrictions of COVID-19 made the experience of international students at Salve Regina difficult last spring 2020 when the virus first surfaced. Many students were stuck in America on campus and unable to get home during lockdown due to travel restrictions. Thankfully, Aikins was able to make it home for the summer to be with his family in England.
Due to personal reasons, Aikins remained in England for the fall semester of 2020, but he is back on campus now. Even though COVID-19 hindered the ability for millions around the world to enjoy their normal experiences in life, Aikins welcomed the new lifestyle that came with the pandemic as an opportunity to continue to improve upon his personal growth.
“Nothing beats being over here [in Newport], and I was kind of sad to not be here,” he said. “On a personal level, I appreciate the things I have learned during Covid, especially over the summer. It was a really huge period of growth. I studied philosophies, got into more mediations and it was just really a period to analyze and study myself.”
Mathematics and music
Aikins is currently a mathematics major with minors in data analytics and music. He plans on doing a new 3+2 Dual Degree program through the mathematics department, in which he spends three years at Salve Regina for undergraduate and two years at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth studying data science in a master’s program.
Aikins hopes to use his education to move into the field of analytics and business. Ideally, he hopes to get into sports analytics in order to keep basketball and sports in his life. When Aikins is not busy studying data science or playing basketball, he uses music as an outlet to escape and destress. His studies in music began in middle school when he started playing in church and in school. He has studied many different type of music on his own, in addition to formal studies in jazz.
“With having studies and varsity basketball to deal with, I decided to use it [music] as my outlet. I channel my inner thoughts and soul-driven powers through playing the bass guitar,” he said. “My decision in minoring in music stems from the therapeutic, loving relationship I have with music — and the desire I have to learn more about it. It restores emotional imbalances I have, it teaches me psychological lessons, induces rhythm to my life …. How could I not study something so powerful?”
Clearly, Aikins has learned to face fear and step into discomfort, discovering that the possibilities through this journey have been endless. His thoughtfulness and optimism has helped him turn difficult or challenging moments into opportunities to grow and improve as a person. Whatever his future holds, he knows he’s lucky to be here in the U.S. at Salve Regina — a place where he’s learning so much, both personally and academically.
Article by student writer Anna Downes ’22
Salve Success is a series of student success stories periodically featured on SALVEtoday. Check out the tag Salve Success for more stories.