Student leader helps bridge gaps on campus

Name: Omar Parris-Dione

Year: Senior

Major: Economics

Hometown: Harlem, New York

Clubs and Organizations: Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc.; African Student Association; Undergraduate Finance Club; Savoy Marketing Group; CAST; NFL Play It Smart Program; various youth mentoring programs

Student leaders play a prevalent role in promoting leadership, service, and diversity within a community. Oftentimes we forget about the active roles these students assume while juggling their busy academic and social routines. But when events like Martin Luther King Day, Black History Month, Asian-American Heritage Month, and other occasions arise, we sit up and take notice. Senior Omar Parris-Dione, who was most recently featured as the Undergraduate Student Speaker for the Martin Luther King Day keynote address, is one such leader.

As a youth growing up with mentors including pastors, relatives, professors and advisors, Parris-Dione strongly believes that “mentorship goes a long way.” Individuals such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Frederick Douglass served as personal role models ­— each were dedicated to community service, and strived to promote change. By looking toward these historical examples, Parris-Dione has actively sought out opportunities to contribute to the community in the direction he wants to see the world change. Through heavy involvement in various youth mentoring programs with neighboring high schools, Parris-Dione gives back to the community in much the same way his mentors have helped him.

Parris-Dione views himself as a direct recipient of the opportunities provided by affirmative action. While some people may perceive the program as unfair, others view it as a bridge to achieving goals. Parris-Dione recalls that he got into a lot of trouble in high school while he was a student at Frederick Douglass Academy. However, he met a recruiter who learned about his active involvement and dedication to community service. She gave him a chance with an opportunity to attend Carnegie Mellon.

Parris-Dione believes that the University has given him a wide range of encouragement, support, and resources to explore and make the most of the diverse learning environment. According to Parris-Dione, “the University’s administration has perpetuated a strong sense of diversity through their open-mindedness, friendliness, and willingness to help. No other school has such a wide range of University events. [Furthermore,] the University cares about increasing enrollment for minorities.”

Parris-Dione is a strong believer that “being American, everyone has equal opportunities, but not everyone acknowledges it.” With this mentality, he’s been actively involved with the Pittsburgh community, mainly through his fraternity and the programs and seminars they organize.

From his beginnings in high school, Parris-Dione has launched himself into a schedule at CMU that hasn’t slowed down even in his senior year. It starts the night before: writing down his plans for the new day, ironing his clothes, and getting books and notes ready for classes the next day. By the time his alarm rings, he’s ready for far more than just going to class.

In between classes, he checks his e-mail, makes phone calls, prepares presentations, and searches for possible guest speakers for his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha. Parris-Dione looks for speakers who can help bring a new perspective to the average college student about academics, internships, organizing personal finances, and family issues.

Like many other students, Parris-Dione studies and goes online to shop in order to help himself relax. In the evenings, he usually gets together with his fraternity brothers for dinner. Although many people get together with their friends for dinner in order to catch up on their day, Parris-Dione and his brothers not only reflect on what happens during their day, they sit together and plan out possible events for the future. They talk over dinner about elements of the community that need to be changed, and courses of actions or programs they can develop to help make these changes a reality.

Diversity at Carnegie Mellon University is a popular issue that gets a lot of attention each semester. While every culture has different customs, beliefs, and histories, Parris-Dione believes that “cultural differences shouldn’t seem like an obstacle in getting to know other people.” Because every faith, religion, and good family has a high sense of morality and respect for the self and others, Parris-Dione sees more similarities than differences between humans across cultures. “The blame for the tendency of people to segregate themselves by race, religion, or cultural background is shared from all sides,” he said. People make assumptions about others who are different from them, and ultimately let these assumptions dictate their actions. According to Parris-Dione, the only way to bridge the gap between individuals with different backgrounds is to “wipe these preconceived notions from people’s minds.”