John Nicklos II

Houston native and former Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) student John Nicklos II, who dropped out of the school returns with a gift that will “elevate the Black engineering student experience” at the institution.

Nicklos revealed the grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Epsilon Gamma lota Inc. Innovation Hub for Student Success on Jan. 19.

The hub is sponsored by Dow Promise Program and will serve as a safe and innovative space for senior engineering students to design solutions to societies most pressing issues on the micro and macro level. There will be a designated workspace equipped with the top-quality professional tools and material to complete hands-on projects and prototypes.

Nicklos says that most HBCUs struggle with the lack of funding to provide these types of spaces leaving student to foot the cost of materials to complete these assignments. The innovation Hub is the first of its kind on any campus in the United States.

The Defender spoke with Nicklos to take us down memory lane leading up to this full circle moment.

Defender: Tell us about yourself

John Nicklos II: I’m a Houston native. Grew up in the hood. My mom was intentional about creating an environment where I felt safe and loved. She was interested in anything I was interested in. I went to Forest Brook High School [now Forest Brook Middle School] in 1998. The school had two magnet programs, one was an engineering program and the other was medical health occupations program. My engineering teacher was a graduate of Prairie View and spoke highly of the school. I planned on going to the University of Oklahoma. But in Summer of 2022 Prairie View had a program called SMET (Science Mathematics Engineering and Technology). Fast forward, Prairie View gave me a full ride. That started my trajectory into engineering. While I was at Prairie View, I was in a ton of different engineering organizations… and pledged for an engineering fraternity on campus called Epsilon Gamma Iota. Inc. I took on the role as President for my fraternity on the chapter level and used our network and resources to put on programs to expand the student’s academic experiences.

Defender: What sparked your interest in engineering? What made you want to drop out of school?

Nicklos II: I think because I was inclined in math and science people assumed I should be an engineer. Most Black families especially immigrants who come to the United States for better opportunities like medicine or law. I knew how to code. I used to build models of houses and bridges in high school. I originally went to Prairie View for computer engineering, but the program wasn’t accredited yet, so I went for electrical engineering instead. After five years of study and internships where I did thing like build satellites and liquified gas plants, I realized that I didn’t want to do it anymore. I got up from my digital design class and walked out. I left everything, got into my car and drove away. That was my junior year in 2007. I devastated my dad. My mom wanted to support me but everyone else told her that I needed to finish school. Kids my age don’t make choices for ourselves, we follow the course our parents plan for us. There was so much uncertainty. I took a job at Bath and Body Works at the Galleria. I later became a general manager and started channeling more of my creative side. I left to work at Coach before making the decision to go back to school. I attended the University of Houston (UH) in 2009 for a degree entrepreneurship and one in marketing.

Defender: How was your time at the University of Houston? Was there anything you took away from your time at PVAMU that you applied at this program?

Nicklos II: I wanted to be an entrepreneur. My dad had been for almost my entire life and my grandmother was a successful beautician. I knew how to think critically and strategically, but I didn’t know how to actualize any of these. That is what UH did for me. I started my college career almost from scratch because my credits from PV didn’t transfer over. It was an amazing time. I sat on the leadership development taskforce, I participated in pitch competitions and won on the local level. Once I finished school, I started a company called Lead 360 to support Black male youth. I saw the world so much differently than I did when I was at PV. However, PV fortified me with so much identity that when I showed up in a new multicultural space, I was able to completely immerse myself in that space without losing any part of me.

Defender: Now everything has come full circle. Talk about the development of this Innovation Hub at Prairie View.

Nicklos II: Even though I left PV didn’t mean I was no longer connecting with the school. I became the National Director of that engineering organization without a degree. There was a message I received in the organization group chat about this grant funded by the Dow Promise Program. I was encouraged by a member of our fraternity to apply. I read to see what qualifications were for a project that will make a positive impact on the community. The focus that I went for was preparing the next level of student innovators of tomorrow. How do we create a space to help these innovators? I wanted to provide supplies for engineering students to help build and design things. Take real world problems and create solutions. Students will be provided with major materials and the tools needed to complete these design projects. Orbital saws, drills, sandpaper, industrial workstations and other tools. What some people don’t know is that most universities in the United States don’t have fabrication centers for students. We encourage students to let their imaginations run wild, but we don’t provide them with the space to do so. Now, students are provided with a full-on professional workspace.

Defender: What message would you like to share to these students?

Nicklos II: You have the audacity to wake up from your dreams and make it real. I think we relegate our children to work from the time they are born to the time they die. We ask our kids what they want to be when they grow up instead of what they like to do for fun. It is beautiful to dream but I want kids to know that it’s okay to wake up from that dream and live it in real life.

Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...