Hailing from Silver Spring, Maryland, Jessika Agyepong was one of 36 students selected for “Jeopardy! National College Championship” Tournament out of 4,000 students nationwide. The special was hosted by the Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik on episode 4, Quarterfinals #4. Agyepong competed against University of Seattle Washington’s Kaden Lee and Northeastern University of Denver’s Lizz Feltner.
A potential candidate must pass the Anytime Test– the “Jeopardy!” qualifying test– and perform mock interviews to be considered one of the 36 contestants. Agyepong received the call about filming during her Thanksgiving break in Nov. 2021.
Paint Branch High School’s academic team fostered Agyepong’s love for “Jeopardy!” Her teacher required the students to train for competitions by watching and studying “Jeopardy!” contestants. After high school, Agyepong attended Spelman College before transferring to Howard University for her senior year, where she participated in both college bowl teams respectively.
Her background in biology, chemistry, humanities and leadership has granted her the opportunity of becoming Howard University’s college bowl team captain and winning multiple national titles, including the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge (HCASC) National Championship.
“Agyepong had a great range of knowledge and filled vital roles for our team in areas of the Bible, world religions, mythology, literature, U.S. and world politics, geography and popular culture. When faced with tough questions in competition…The right answer that we always knew would come from her,” Daniele Bascelli, Spelman College’s current college bowl coach, said.
In preparation for “Jeopardy!” players must study everything independently without guidance. As a result, Agyepong studied two to three hours a day. As a routine, Agyepong would refresh, strengthen and cover many topics using YouTube, Sporcle and Crash Courses.
“For example, you read a book in an English class and go over the themes and characters. But on ‘Jeopardy!’, you only need to know the surface-level things. You don’t need to know the meaning of rhetorical devices. You only focus on who the author was when it was written, and a little about the author,” Agyepong said.
As well as retaining trivia, Agyepong must practice her reflexes to be the fastest to answer the question. Despite practicing with a pen as a pretend mock buzzer at home, Agyepong quickly adapted to the buzzer and anticipated questions before they were even asked. Even during her show, Agyepong used the set design to her benefit, using the lights [which flashed once the question was completed] as a visual cue to press the buzzer.
Agyepong used these techniques during the competition. Amidst the categories such as “Famous Aquarians” to “The 1920s,” Agyepong answered 24 questions correctly and kept a steady lead until the final round. Being tied with Lizz Feltner for $8,400 on the final buzzer, both contestants betted their entire pot for the potential chance to move on to the next bracket. Agyepong did not answer the question correctly.
“I was super disappointed and went into my own head. You can do everything correctly, study, buzz in, but the final question is what matters the most. Being secure that I did everything I could that was in control of. As I move forward, I must be secure with myself and my knowledge and my abilities,” Agyepong said.
At the end of her segment, Agyepong did not win the $250,000 or place into the bracket system. Through her participation, however, she values the opportunity, support and exposure from the Howard University community on social media.
“When I posted [on LinkedIn] I had gotten half a million views and 20,000 reactions, it’s astounding how people watched me on ‘Jeopardy!’ and rooted for me, hoping I did well. Maybe a little black girl watched my game and thought ‘wanted to be like her’ and go to an HBCU,” Agyepong said.
Agyepong was one of only two HBCUs (Howard and Spelman) to have student participants in the tournament at the same time, in all of the tournament’s history.
“It will be a major selling point for Howard HCASC going forward. I’d love to see HCASC alumni from over the years to join in with the rest of the Howard community in supporting Jessika’s run at the grand prize and a potential place in the next Tournament of Champions,” chemistry professor and Howard University college bowl coach John Harkless said.
Besides her scholarly contributions, Agyepong’s presence helped lay the groundwork for future black scholars who are interested in academia competitions.
“I’m a regular person who happens to know trivia, but for someone outside of that, it means so much more. I never knew I could get this [opportunity], but I just hope I inspired someone to do the impossible,” Agyepong said.
Copy edited by Jasper Smith.