‘Both my parents came to America to provide better resources for themselves and their unborn children. That translated into me taking advantage of the educational opportunities that were presented to me.’
“I am the second child and first daughter of Igbo Nigerian immigrants. I spent most of my life growing up in Elmont. A lot of who I am today stems from the impact of my family as well as the support system and environment at Elmont High School. Nigerian parents and culture really value education.
“Both my parents came to America to provide better resources for themselves and their unborn children. That translated into me taking advantage of the educational opportunities that were presented to me. This most readily happened while at Elmont High School and in the science research program.
“I was able to get my first research experience at the age of 13, which ultimately led me to pursue research in cement, concrete and civil engineering during my senior year of high school. That was a very fun and transformative experience for me because I was able to learn more about the carbon footprint of the cement and concrete industry, as well as inspire many up-and-coming scientists and young people across Long Island and within my own Elmont community.
“This inspiration happened when I was selected to be a finalist of the Intel Science Talent Search (now Regeneron Science Talent Search), chosen to attend President Obama’s White House Science Fair and, later, elected to be a part of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the energy category. This happened all because of the research that I did, which was through my own curiosity and efforts, but really, due to the mentorship and support that I got from the Elmont community.
“This translated into my work at Harvard, where I decided to study bioengineering, which allowed me to combine my budding interests in engineering with my desire to make an impact on health and medicine. I did research in point of care technology for the past four years, all culminating to my current journey: to pursue an MD/PhD to become a physician scientist.
“This basically means having a foot in medicine and research to fundamentally help transform how we practice medicine in our country, and to reimagine how to make these systems more equitable and just for all people, particularly those who come from underserved patient populations.”
In the future, I’d like to give back to communities nationwide by providing them with research experiences.
“I was blessed to be invited to the White House Science Fair and a Science Talent Search finalist, which is the oldest and most prestigious science competition for high school seniors. I was the only Black person out of all 40 finalists. That was the first time that I really started to understand the general inaccessibility of science and research to people like myself.
“Fast-forward to my time working at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. I decided to start the TRUST Fellowship (Translational Research for Untapped Science Talent Fellowship), which is focused on exposing students from underrepresented backgrounds to research in inclusive mentoring.
“At the time when I began the TRUST Fellowship, I was working on a COVID-19 project in the lab I was in. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted underserved communities, like Black folks, socioeconomic disadvantaged folks and other marginalized communities in our society. I felt very empowered as a Black woman from a low-income background working on this research myself and thus wanted to expose more students like myself to this type of work.
“Through the TRUST Fellowship, in the pilot stage, we were able to mentor six different first- and second-year students at Harvard who come from these backgrounds. They worked on COVID-19, neurodegenerative projects and cardiovascular projects. The common theme between these projects is that they are translational, which means that the goal of the research is meant to transform and translate into the way doctors and clinicians provide care for patients.
“Ultimately, the TRUST Fellowship was an opportunity for me to take the knowledge I’ve crystallized as a researcher of about 10 years at that point and give back to students in my Harvard community.
“In the future, I’d like to give back to communities nationwide by providing them with research experiences that can not only introduce them to really cool work, but also hopefully inspire them to — like myself — potentially pursue an MD/PhD, MD, PhD or just paths that are focused on innovation and really reimagining the ways in which we do research and practice medicine to make it more inclusive and equitable for communities that are underserved.”
‘I think these accomplishments speak to the importance of identifying your passions and really just focusing on learning and growing in your passion.’
“That time [during my college search] where I was recognized by a lot of different media outlets was quite an exciting time. It was a time that I couldn’t have necessarily predicted or planned for. Literally to this day, I do not know who nominated me [for Forbes 30 Under 30]. I just got a tweet from someone who works on the selection committee informing me that I was nominated and to DM them to get a link to the application.
“I think these accomplishments speak to the importance of identifying your passions and really just focusing on learning and growing in your passion. For me at the time, it was really understanding more about cement, concrete and specifically developing a better cement seal that can be used for offshore oil wells to prevent horrible oil spills.
“I really dived into my passion and interests and stuck my hands in everything with the desire to really take advantage of the opportunities presented to me — again instilled in me by my Nigerian parents. It led to all these accomplishments, such as admission into all the colleges I applied to, which includes all the eight Ivy League institutions. I was also on BET ‘Black Girls Rock!’ and was a ‘Making A Difference’ or ‘M.A.D. Girl’ awardee. Alongside having all these accomplishments, they further reinforced to me the particular role that God wants me to play in this world, which is to lift as I climb. Because I’ve been pushed out to all these platforms, I’ve been able to connect with so many near peers who are curious about potentially studying engineering, pursuing research, attending an Ivy League school, going to college and pursuing medicine.
“I’ve been able to connect with so many of these people and inspire them because I don’t want to be the only one in these spaces. I don’t want to be the only Black person who’s a Science Talent Search finalist. I don’t want to be one of two Black people graduating with a bachelor of science in bioengineering from Harvard. I don’t want to be the only physician scientist.
“These accomplishments have just given me a platform that has allowed me to connect with and inspire more youth, which I think is very clear with some of the other involvements and things I’ve done since that time.”
Interviewed by Victoria Bell