Emily K Center builds a stronger generation

Twin sisters Oyinka and Oyinda Ajasa are only in the 7th grade, but they’re already planning to attend Duke Medical School together.

“I want to be a pediatrician,” said Oyinda, a student at Rogers-Herr Middle School.

Emily K Center Pioneer Scholars and twin sisters Oyinka and Oyinda Ajasa.

Emily K Center Pioneer Scholars and twin sisters Oyinka and Oyinda Ajasa. (Staff [photo by Ayanna Crawley)

Her sister also wants a career in medicine.

“I want to be an oncologist,” Oyinka said.

They both plan to reach their goals with the help of the Emily K. Center, a non-profit organization in Durham that prepares kids for college through its “K to College” model.

“We help to bridge the gap between students who are excited about education but might not have the same opportunities that some of their classmates might have in school,” said Heather Hindin, Associate Director of Elementary and Middle School Programming who has worked at the center for seven years. The Emily K Center was established in 2006, and is named in honor of the mother of Duke University Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“K to College” offers three programs. The “Pioneer Scholars” program prepares elementary and middle school students for high school through tutoring, technology skills classes, and a math and science mentor program.

The Scholars to College program prepares high school students for college through academics, career exploration, financial literacy, and SAT preparation.

The third program, “Scholars on Campus,” targets college students.

“When I started here we did not have a high school program,” said Hindin. “We served 43 students through the Pioneer Scholars program and that was the only program that we had and now we have 203 students in three programs.”

The Emily K Center accepts applications to the program every spring. Students are usually referred by teachers, friends and family, or learn about the programs by visiting the center.

“A lot of kids have really firm ideas of what they want to do when they start the program and if they want to continue down that path we’ll do everything to support that pursuit,” said Hindin. “Which means connecting them with professionals in that field, researching colleges and universities that might help to facilitate that final goal, internships, what classes they could be taking, but we also encourage them to explore other avenues and do whatever they want to do to help them figure out what they want to be.”

Students in the program come from more than 30 different schools, and all receive either free or reduced lunch.

“When we interview students for the high school program in particular we want to hear students say I am going to go to college that is my goal,” said Hindin. “And perhaps they do have a sense of what they want to be when they grow up but we don’t want to pigeonholed anybody into anything we want to give them opportunities to explore their options.”

Oyinda said she most looks forward to Fridays at the Emily K Center.

“We get to have fun,” Oyinda said, “and we can play and combine with the other people we don’t usually work with throughout the day.”

Her sister agreed.

“Everyone’s welcoming,” said Oyinka.

They both say the Emily K Center helps them get better grades, meet new people outside of school, and is helping them achieve their goals to go to Duke Medical School.

The advice they would give to future Emily K scholars:

“Don’t be shy,” Oyinda said.

“Work your hardest and do your best.” Oyinka said.


Pioneer Scholars of the Emily K center gather and enjoy afternoon snacks.

Pioneer Scholars of the Emily K center gather and enjoy afternoon snacks. (Staff photo by Ayanna Crawley)