Samuel Ndukwe is a first-generation Nigerian-American that accepts every challenge that comes his way. Growing up as a minority in his hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina was not easy, nor was the path to excellence and achievement straightforward. He learned many of life’s lessons through his community, friends, and family. Tapping into his Nigerian-American customs, Samuel creates relationships and provides assistance to those in need. Through this use of his cultural values of hard work and perseverance, he also earned a Bachelor’s degree in Health Policy Management from UNC-Chapel Hill.
During his undergraduate years, Samuel served as a representative for the University’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion, guiding campus tours for students and parents. He stands for creating equal opportunity for less fortunate and underrepresented people. Additionally, he gained valuable research experience through UNC’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy. After graduating from UNC, Samuel is still shooting for the stars. He currently works as a Senior Research Assistant at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.
Can you describe the community in which you grew up?
I grew up in a diverse, predominately lower-middle-class community within Raleigh, North Carolina. My community emphasized the value of hard work and supporting your fellow neighbor. The majority of my friends, like me, are first-generation Americans who had to learn how to balance family tradition with navigating American public schools.
How did that shape your self-identity?
My upbringing strongly influenced my self-image by instilling a strong sense of identity and courage within me, which enabled me to achieve all my goals up to this point in my life.
How does your identity shape your approach to diversity work?
My identity as a first-generation Nigerian-American has pushed me to never grow complacent with my community. Also, my Nigerian heritage has taught me the importance of family and the critical role one’s community plays in a person’s development. I have utter confidence in my ambitions because of my strong support system. I continuously look for opportunities to expand my knowledge of cultures and how to better serve those with whom I share very little in common.
Why did you pursue a degree in Health Policy Management at UNC?
Initially, I pursued the B.S. in Health Policy Management because of my interest in understanding how certain communities are disproportionately affected by public health crises and how population health expands beyond clinical care. Disadvantaged communities lack access to adequate medical care and are often overlooked when health policies are supposed to be constructed to support “everyone.” Although I greatly value health policy reform and public health, my primary career goal is to become a physician.
Were you involved in any student organizations during your time at UNC? And what were the organizations’ purposes?
While attending UNC as an undergraduate, I was heavily involved in Minority Men in Medicine (MMM), serving as the MMM undergraduate president. MMM served to connect minority pre-med/dental students to medical and dental students in the UNC School of Medicine and UNC Adams School of Dentistry. Founded on the basis of mentorship and service, the organization is an invaluable platform that has supported so many minority men to successfully apply and matriculate into health professional schools.
How were you involved with our University Office for Diversity and Inclusion during your Undergraduate experience?
I was very much involved with the D&I Office while attending UNC. I served as a counselor for Project Uplift in summer 2018 (best cohort ever!). I also served on the Excellence Committee as a result of my work giving campus tours, leading parent inquiry panels, and as a D&I representative around campus.
Can you describe your experience as a research assistant at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, during your undergrad?
Working at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy was my first experience working in an experimental (wet) research lab. This experience exposed me to the world of academic research and challenged me to enhance my knowledge of biochemical processes outside of my science courses.
Currently, you work as a Senior Research Assistant at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. How did your research assistant role prepare you for this?
My previous research role gave me the confidence to contribute to complex research projects and work with postdoctoral researchers even with my limited research experiences. I spent a great deal of time outside the lab cultivating my research knowledge so that I could be an asset to my lab.
What life factors influenced your career choice?
I believe that I was placed on this Earth to serve others in a way that would impact their lives in ways I cannot even fathom. As a child, my father always told me to apply my faith in God and shoot for the stars because life is too short to have regrets. This mentality, combined with my mother’s passion for academia, encouraged me to focus on my area of study.
Do you have any volunteer experiences? If so, what were those experiences like?
I loved my experience as a mentor for Communiversity Youth Program at UNC. I had the opportunity to coach, teach, and support K-9 graders from Orange County Schools almost every day and establish genuine relationships that positively impacted me just as much as the scholars. Additionally, I regularly volunteered at the Durham Rescue Mission where I served nutritious foods to low-income and homeless Durham residents.
Do you have a specific memory of how your parents supported your academic and career paths?
My parents have always motivated me to do my absolute best and never settle for mediocre work. This has been a mantra for me and has kept me pushing myself beyond perceived limitations.
What is your life motto?
“Adversity causes some people to break and causes other people to break records.”
What advice would you give a student entering college that is pursuing a career path like yours?
Congratulations on discovering your ambition, but don’t be afraid to explore all of your passions, especially the ones that intimidate you. Also, incorporate fun activities into your schedule, even when you’re swamped with work. You never get this time back so enjoy every moment!
Written by Joe Heilmann, University Office for Diversity and Inclusion