Name: Barbara Chidinma Okeke
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Type of Fulbright award: Study/Research Award to Romania in Public Health
Degree and field of study: Ph.D. human toxicology
Research: I will be conducting a public health research study that will allow me to investigate water quality and water behavior in various rural and urban communities in Transylvania, Romania, and the impact water quality overall has on human health. Water contamination from nitrites/nitrates, pesticides, aluminum, iron, and phthalates has been a growing concern in the southern and northern areas of Romania for the past decade due to absent surveying and monitoring of private water sources.
What drew you to this field of study?
“The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.” -Michio Kaku. The mystery of the human brain has allured me since I was a little girl. Understanding how the way we interact with the world can impact the most mysterious organ in the human body piqued a curiosity in me that eventually led me to the Ph.D. program at the University of Iowa. Neurotoxicology combined my passions for environmental justice, neurochemistry, toxicology, and neurobehavior and allowed me the opportunity to conduct research centered in public health while also aiding in the translation of bench science.
How do you envision this will change your life?
As a Fulbright scholar with hopes to effect change on a global scale, this opportunity will allow me to build international collaborations and connections that encourage information sharing on public health issues that are of mutual importance.
What advice do you have for future students interested in pursuing a Fulbright award?
Do it! The Fulbright process may seem daunting, but it is rewarding. Start your application early and take your time working through all of the moving pieces. Some advice that I found helpful through my process was “do not apply to go solely where you’d like; instead, apply to go where your skill set fulfills a need.”
Are there any individuals you'd like to thank for their investment in this process?
I would like to thank Laurence Fuortes, MD, and Gabrielle Ludewig, Ph.D., for their guidance during my Fulbright process and for recommending me for this amazing opportunity. In addition, I would like to thank Karen Wachsmuth and the other professors and staff at the University of Iowa that helped students through the Fulbright application process through mock interviews, application revisions, and advice.