Getting to Know: Graduate Student Samuel Okyem

Date

06/05/20

Hometown: Ghana (Ashanti Region-Kumasi). Located in Western Africa, the country is known for its cocoa that’s used to make some of the best chocolates in Africa, and Ghana is also rich in gold.

Path to Illinois: Majored in chemistry at Kwame Nkrumah University in Ghana and recently completed his master’s degree at Illinois State University where he maintained a 4.0 GPA and conducted research in directional adsorption of charge modified antibodies onto gold nanoparticle for biomedical applications and point of care diagnosis.

Research interests at U of I: Analytical neurochemistry using advanced chemical tools to understand the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases and the effects of opioids on chronic migraines.

Long-term career goal: Research scientist working toward the development of diagnostic tools and therapeutics for tropical neglected diseases that affect the world’s poorest people (schistosomiasis, ascariasis, bilharzia, etc.); understanding and developing remedies for neurogenic disorders associated with misuse and overuse of opioids and other drugs; and training and encouraging more people of color to engage in STEM.

Big goal: To set up an infectious disease center in west Africa to monitor the emergence and re-emergence of infectious disease in sub-Saharan Africa. Growing up in  Ghana, I realized most people die without knowing the cause of their death because no autopsy is conducted for about 90 percent of people who die. Most are attributed to spiritual and superstitious sources. I was always not convinced with these answers especially after the death of my cousin when she was just 22 years old. I kept asking questions yet no factual answers were given, so I decided to become a medical doctor when I was a junior in high school. Later, I realized becoming a medical doctor will not give me the details I sought, but rather pursuing research in chemistry and biology was the best. In my third year of college, I determined most of these deaths attributed to spiritual sources were a result of infectious disease. However, our major challenge as a country is the lack of infrastructure and resources to detect and manage these diseases. To this end, I made it a goal to set up an infectious disease center which will help mitigate these challenges.

Why Illinois? The University of Illinois is known to be one of the best universities that has significant research opportunities, both in specialized skill and research facilities. The inter-disciplinary and cutting-edge research conducted by the faculty in the chemistry department aligns with my interest and underlies the main reason for applying to this noble institution. The research of professors Jonathan Sweedler, Yi Lu, and Lisa Olshansky inspired me to apply. I believe the U of I is the best school to prepare and enable me to reach my potential as a research scientist and to achieve my professional goals.

What's been one of your greatest challenges? Coming from a nuclear family with no high school graduate. It was really challenging to convince my parents to bridge that gap. My dad was very resilient to allow me to go to high school and always wanted me to learn a trade. It took me a while to convince my mum too, but finally, she agreed and even took care of my first year of high school without my dad’s knowledge. This phase of my life was a big challenge for me.

Something others may not know about you? First-person in my family to graduate from high school and college. And I'm most active at night.

Any hobbies/favorite activities? Working out at the gym and playing soccer.

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