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Biochemistry senior receives prestigious award

“When I came to the U.S., I traveled here alone,” Ogechukwu Ezenwa, a senior biochemistry student, recalled. “I remember calling my mom and telling her I wanted to come back home, everything here was different. But she encouraged me to keep pushing through, and I did.”

As she prepares to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, Ezenwa reflects on the challenges she faced when she left her home country of Nigeria to attend Purdue in 2017. With the support of her family back home and her brother, who began his graduate degree at Purdue the same time Ezenwa enrolled, she persevered.

Soon she thrived.

Ogechukwu Ezenwa
Ogechukwu Ezenwa

Ezenwa was recently awarded the Charles O. McGaughey Leadership Award, a testament to her contributions to Purdue and within the college. The award is conferred to students who have made significant contributions through outstanding leadership.

In addition to her studies, Ezenwa served as a member of the Civic Engagement and Leadership program (CELD), which is part of the campus-wide Leadership and Professional Development Initiative (LPD). CELD focuses on helping students find their civic identities through leadership and volunteer activities. Through this initiative, Ezenwa became certified as an instructor of leadership courses, which involved helping other students discover meaningful ways to support their community while building useful skills.

“Participating in this CELD allowed me to guide other students towards great opportunities, but it also opened a lot of doors for me,” Ezenwa said. “I met a lot of people I wouldn’t have otherwise met.”

Additionally, Ezenwa is vice president of the Nigerian Student Association at Purdue, a club comprised of roughly 100 members. In this role, she helps Nigerian students new to Purdue transition and find their footing.

“I know from personal experience how challenging it is to begin university away from home and everything you’re used to,” she said.

Ezenwa also became a leader in her field of study, where she excels academically. Ezenwa worked with Joseph Ogas, professor of biochemistry and associate department head, in his lab. Her work focuses on better understanding the mediator complex in plants, a process of communication between DNA and RNA enzymes, and how this can inform genetic studies in animals. She will continue her research in Ogas’ lab through the summer.

One of the many reasons Ezenwa values her time at Purdue is because of the various academic and extracurricular opportunities, which helped her find a path suited to her interests.

“My parents wanted me to become a doctor, but I wasn’t having it,” Ezenwa laughed. “I do want to work on the animal and human side of biochemistry but in a research setting. That’s something Purdue helped me realize.”

Ezenwa had always been drawn to agriculture while attending high school, but she had no idea how intertwined the field was with sciences like chemistry and biology. While Ezenwa doesn’t know precisely what she wants to do post-graduation, she knows she wants to further her passion for science and research while also serving communities, a goal that combines her leadership skills with her passion for the hard sciences. Agriculture, she said, offers the best opportunities for working at that intersection.

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