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NJBIA will honor five standout college students with “Rising Star Awards” when more than 450 business leaders, entrepreneurs and students gather for the 8th Annual New Jersey Women Business Leaders Forum in Atlantic City on Sept. 28-29.

The honorees, all of whom are students at New Jersey universities, are: Vineyard Ekwe, of Newark; Michael D. Nash II, of Mount Laurel; Chekwube Okunowo, of Abuja, Nigeria; Ana Richards, of Fair Lawn; and Kareena Salvi, of Edison.

The New Jersey Women Business Leaders Forum, powered by NJBIA, is the state’s largest professional women’s conference. Each year it brings together hundreds of women and men for engaging workshops, dynamic TED-style talks and one-on-one coaching opportunities. The Rising Star winners will be recognized during an awards luncheon on Sept. 28 at Caesars.

“NJBIA’s Rising Star Awards honor students who have demonstrated a passion for their career path, academic success, and a commitment to volunteering in their communities during their undergraduate careers,” NJBIA President & CEO Michele Siekerka said.

“This year, we are proud to recognize the accomplishments of five students who have distinguished themselves at New Jersey institutions of higher education and are destined for great professional success,” she said.

The five Rising Star Award winners are:

Vineyard Ekwe, Stockton University

Ekwe is a senior Criminal Justice major at Stockton University with a concentration in forensic investigation and a double minor in Computer Information Systems and Victim Services. A Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and Dean’s List student, Ekwe volunteers for several nonprofits, is a Stockton peer mentor, and a member of the Stockton Student Senate. Ekwe has interned for the Homicide Taskforce Division of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and is currently a legislative intern for the nonprofit New Jersey Black Legislative Caucus Foundation, where she works to resolve constituent issues. Ekwe’s goal is a career that will enable her to pursue her passion for advocating for victims’ rights.

Michael D. Nash II, Rowan University

Nash is a senior Political Science major at Rowan University, with a minor in Leadership. He is the founder and president of the Men of Color Alliance at Rowan, the vice president of the university’s Black Student Union, and treasurer of the NAACP Rowan Collegiate Chapter. Nash is the student representative of the university’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Task Force, a peer mentor, and a volunteer at the Food Bank of South Jersey and the Second Baptist Church of Moorestown. He is currently an intern in Rowan’s Office of Governmental Relations and a legislative aide to state Senator Troy Singleton. After graduating from Rowan, Nash plans to attend law school and focus on civil rights or family law. One day he hopes to start a nonprofit in memory of his cousin who was killed by gun violence.

Chekwube Okunowo, Drew University

Okunowo is a junior majoring in International Relations at Drew University, who aspires to attend a law school that offers a dual degree program that will also enable her to earn a graduate degree in Foreign Service. Her career goal is to one day serve as a U.S. ambassador and work with nonprofit organizations and human rights organizations. During her undergraduate career, she has held leadership positions in Student Government, the Black Student Union, and the African Students Association. Okunowo has been a staff writer for the Writing Wrongs Advocacy Journalism Program and the Roosevelt Network International Writing Group. She founded the social justice movement “HashtagDearYouth” in Nigeria in 2019 and was a summer volunteer at the Heritage Homes Orphanage in Abuja, Nigeria.

Ana Richards, Montclair State University

Richards is a junior Philosophy major at Montclair State University who aspires to attend law school and become a civil rights attorney. Richards is a winner of the Congressional Award Bronze Certificate, the nation’s highest achievement for youth, which recognizes initiative, service, and accomplishment. At the New Jersey Youth Forum, organized by the Governor’s Office, Richards participated in programs on social justice and diversity, equity, and inclusion. She has a keen interest in government and was an attendee at NJBIA’s Meet the Decision Makers program in June to hear the state attorney general speak on civil rights, public safety and other issues. Richards is very involved with the Fair Lawn chapter of the New Jersey League of Women Voters, where she focuses on efforts to engage renters in the voting process.

Kareena Salvi, Drew University

Salvi is a senior at Drew University who is majoring in Political Science with minors in Spanish, Dance, and Law, Justice & Society. Salvi is highly involved in Student Government at Drew and served as the organization’s president last year. As an undergraduate, she has also taken on leadership roles as a resident assistant and as a co-leader of Drew’s Roosevelt Institute. Salvi has worked as an intern tracking bias incidents for the Sikh Coalition, the nation’s largest Sikh civil rights organization, and was also a member of U.S. Senator Frank Pallone Jr.’s Youth Advisory Council. Salvi is passionate about working on behalf of those who are marginalized because of race, class, gender, and immigration status. After graduation, she hopes to put her education and volunteer experience to work in the human rights and civil rights fields.