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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Dezmond Banks Took a Nontraditional Path to ODU

By Charaje’ Harrison

Years before he became a man of Alpha Phi Alpha and served as membership chair for the National Society of Black Engineers, Dezmond Banks' plans for his future were quite different.

Banks, 26, is a nontraditional student who will graduate in December with a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering technology. He initially did not see Old Dominion University in his career path because he had no intention of going to college.

From a young age, Banks remembers his father instilling a strong work ethic in him. It wasn't long before he got his hands dirty when his father introduced him to their family landscaping business. He quickly developed an entrepreneur mentality; when he turned 14, he obtained a work permit. Later, when Banks realized he needed a car to travel between work and school, his father joked that if he could get one of the older cars that was sitting in the yard running, he could keep it. After a couple of weeks, Banks powered back to life the engine of a 1981 Corvette.

So during high school, he saw more opportunity at the Sheehy Ford car dealership he was working for than college.

"Since I was young, I've always loved working on cars," said Banks, noting that he passed the Virginia state inspector exam, allowing him to earn more money and perform advanced tasks, while he was a student at L.C. Bird High School in Chesterfield County. "During my time at the dealership, working as a service technician, I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges I faced daily. Although college was a popular decision among most, I didn't feel like it was necessary to be successful."

He added that some of his colleagues were college graduates and performing the same tasks he was.

"This made me question if the debt was worth the payoff," he said. "At the time life was great. I was making enough money to sustain my lifestyle, traveling and overall stress-free."

After four years at the dealership, he got a job at United Rentals' Richmond Ariel Branch as a service technician, where he worked on construction equipment. One of his former colleagues there commended his intelligence and problem-solving skills and urged him to give college a try, telling him about the benefits higher education could yield to him.

But Banks still wasn't sold until management offered to allow him to work part-time if he attended a community college part-time - an offer that branch had never made before. Once he started his first semester at John Tyler Community College, he realized exactly what he wanted to do with his career. After receiving his associate degree in mechanical engineering technology, he wanted to enroll full-time at a university to complete his studies. His older brother, Thomas, graduated from ODU as a first-generation student. So Dezmond decided to keep tradition.

At ODU, he has been involved in a number of organizations, including the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., and Tau Sigma National Honor Society.

He said NSBE had the biggest impact. Through one of the organization's job fairs, he landed a facility engineer internship in the summer of 2018 with Caterpillar in Decatur, Ill. He received a superior-performance evaluation grade and was recommended for full-time hire.

"NSBE has given me the opportunity to network with many professionals in the engineering field," he said.

Banks, who plans to take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam in March, would ultimately like to become an entrepreneur and build custom engines. He said he truly enjoyed his time at ODU.

"My experience at ODU has aided me in becoming a well-rounded person," he said. "With such a diverse community I have been able to interact with people from different backgrounds, professional levels and people who are just like me. My time here has shown me that school is more than just getting a degree; it's about forming relationships. Yes, my degree will put me in position to be recognized by engineering companies. However, the relationships I have developed while obtaining my degree have provided me with references and mentors that will help further my professional and personal success."

Charaje' Harrison is a student in entrepreneurship and public relations, a communication class which sees students work in partnership with the University's Office of Strategic Communication & Marketing

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