Ikenna Anigbogu graduated from UC Santa Cruz in spring of 2020. During his time at UCSC, he was a Research Mentoring Institute (RMI) scholar, a member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), a peer mentor for the Black Men’s Initiative (BMI), and an iGEM team member. He currently works as a junior research specialist in Baskin Engineering Professor Mark Akeson’s lab and plans to pursue graduate education in the near future.

Why did you choose Baskin School of Engineering?

When I was in high school, I developed an interest in bioengineering and scientific discoveries because this field has the potential to create technology that can benefit millions of people. I felt like I could have greater reach and a positive impact with pursuing something in bioengineering. The research opportunities and engineering school at UCSC really appealed to me, and it only took a couple of times visiting the beautiful campus to know that this was a place I could see myself for the next four years.

What was one of your favorite experiences at Baskin Engineering?

I got my first real exposure to research through iGEM, a senior capstone project bioengineering students get to do. Our project was to build a thermostable vaccine, modeling off of the Newcastle Disease vaccine. Creating a thermostable vaccine allows countries to maintain active vaccines and administer them easily without needing access to refrigeration to preserve the vaccine in colder temperatures. It really exposed me to the humanitarian side of science, which is something I have always wanted to be involved in.

During your undergraduate education, you were a Research Mentoring Institute (RMI) scholar and a peer mentor for the Black Men’s Initiative (BMI) at UCSC. Tell me more.

RMI allowed me to remove the mindset I initially had of feeling like I didn’t belong because I was one of the only students of color in my classes and gave me the opportunity to meet other students from underrepresented backgrounds studying in the sciences and establish a support system. The scholarship that is provided to RMI scholars really helped me because I was able to focus more on my studies and research, and ultimately succeed. I was also a member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), which provided an additional community of support while studying at UCSC.

I’ve always been interested in giving back to the community. One way I was able to do that was through the mentorship program with the UCSC Black Men’s Initiative. I had four mentees during my time at UC Santa Cruz. I really enjoyed being able to share my experiences with them and help provide solutions to the problems they were facing. It also allowed me to share resources on campus, so they can have a network of support from the very beginning. One of those resources was the MEP (Multicultural Engineering Program) room, which is a dedicated safe space for engineering students of color. It was a great place to study.

Your last quarter was remote due to COVID-19. What advice would you give current students about remote learning?

Humanity has an amazing ability to adapt. No storm lasts forever, so it’s important to continue moving forward and working towards your academic goals. It can feel isolating at times, especially because we’ve been in this remote world for a year now, but your close friends and family become all the more vital to reach out to and connect with.

Describe the research you’re working on in Professor Mark Akeson’s lab.

The Akeson Lab is a nanopore sequencing lab. I started off as an undergraduate research assistant and then got hired on as a junior research specialist over the summer of 2020. My duties usually involve sequencing RNA and various plasmids with the nanopore technology we have, but one of the first projects that I got to work on last summer was developing a curriculum to help teach bioengineering lab skills remotely. We sent equipment to the students so they could follow along in Zoom teaching sessions. It was fun to share the knowledge that I learned during my undergraduate career with current students. Right now, we’re working on collaborating with Professor Beth Shapiros’s lab and the Molecular Diagnostics Lab, as part of the campus COVID-19 sequencing effort.

What are your plans for the next few years?

I will pursue a master’s and a Ph.D. program at some point, but I want to get industry experience first. My ultimate goal is to do something with personalized medicine, which is centralized around the idea that no human being is the same and we must treat people on an individual basis. This kind of inclusion effort will advance the effectiveness of medical treatment.

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