No surprise here! Nicole Tinson ’14 Forbes 30 Under 30

Walter M. Kimbrough
5 min readDec 4, 2019


I was sitting in my cabinet meeting when Dr. Marc Barnes showed me this photo:

Dillard alumna Nicole Tinson ’14 landed on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs list. In the main article they write:

Tackling the unemployment rate for black graduates: After graduating from Dillard University, a historically black college, 29-year old Nicole Tinson received her master’s degree from Yale University. The stark difference in career opportunities for graduates of each institution wasn’t lost on her: Fortune 100 and tech companies heavily recruited Yale students but rarely visited her HBCU’s campus. In 2017, she launched HBCU 20x20, which connects HBCU students and graduates to jobs and internships. The organization has placed more than 750 HBCU students and graduates into career opportunities and partnered with 43 companies, including AT&T, Accenture, Intel, SpaceX, REVOLT, and Uber.

This is an incredible accomplishment but I can honestly say I am not surprised at all. While people are writing books about grit and hustle, she could teach a master class. And I knew this early on.

I was named president of Dillard on November 1, 2011. It basically took her a week to convince me that I need to follow her on Twitter. As you can tell, I did. Other students started asking me how could they get a follow but I knew there was something unique about Nicole. When I spent a few days at Dillard in March of 2012 before starting, she was sure to be part of some of my time on campus. She made sure I was going to know her. And subsequently she became one of my go-to students.

When Roland Martin and Jeff Johnson did an HBCU student analysis of a 2012 Presidential debate, Nicole was involved.

She got a Congressional Black Caucus internship and spent a semester in DC while taking classes at American University.

She was in Florida with the Dream Defenders occupying the State Capitol, and participated in the anniversary of the March on Washington in DC.

Her internships included work with UNCF, and she was named a 2104 White House HBCU Scholar.

She was always about community service.

She was bummed out when she saw I had Cornel West & Tavis Smiley speaking at Dillard while she was going to be in DC. But she learned Cornel West would be speaking there and she found a way to work that event (and get a picture).

Recently, when Cory Booker had a conversation with a select group of Atlanta pastors (my dad was there), Nicole was there too! (Yeah, she has a degree from Yale seminary but she ain’t no pastor!)

But her biggest coup was Michelle Obama for the 2014 commencement. Quick story. Nicole ran for senior class president and lost… TO NO ONE! We had this crazy category which allowed students to vote for “no suitable candidate” for every slate. Hell, if there is only one candidate, they win. If you didn’t think they were suitable, you should have run!

So we basically had a “run-off” which was ridiculous because she was still going to be the only candidate. So despite the haters in the class she actively worked with me on the speaker. Her goal was President Barack Obama. She got a film student do a video pitch. But early that April we got the word that he wasn’t coming.

I told Nicole I had a contact and we can get Don Lemon. She said “I’m going to try to get Michelle Obama.” I said OK, but I am about to get this contract. A couple of weeks later, I got an e-mail while I was on a conference call saying to call the office of the First Lady.

I got off that call! LOL

When I called the woman said that Michelle Obama got this letter from my student Nicole and wanted to know if she could do commencement.


And a few weeks later, Michelle Obama did commencement, courtesy of a student undeterred by some peers who hated on her and voted for “no suitable candidate.” Some of those folks were the main ones on social media bragging, “We got Michelle Obama for commencement!”

Nah, Nicole did.

And that’s part of the message for us all. Don’t be deterred by naysayers, or people jealous of you because you are out there hustling, networking, making moves. They sit back waiting for things to fall in their laps while you make it happen. Don’t let folks make you feel ashamed because you are doing the work.

There are so many stories and pictures I could share about Nicole, but I am super proud of her. She continues to overcome adversities as she writes her story.

So yeah, she’s on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. And I’m not surprised at all. After all, she was on the national radar being interviewed by Fast Company magazine in 2018.

Because that is what Nicole does.

The Prez



Walter M. Kimbrough

12th president of Philander Smith College. 7th president of Dillard University. Now in an Intermission.