Chiamaka Ukachukwu is the current president of the African Graduate Students Association (AGSA), which she re-launched in 2018. She was born in New Jersey and is a first generation Nigerian American currently in the second year of her PhD in Pharmacology at the University of Michigan. She serves on the African Studies Center (ASC) executive board as the student representative, where she helps build community among students, faculty, and staff of the African Diaspora, and encourages student collaboration with the ASC to pursue research projects in Africa. In both roles, she serves as a liaison between the student body and ASC, advertising the university’s ongoing engagement with Africa, the prestigious University of Michigan African Presidential Scholars (UMAPS) Program, and the many travel grants to Africa that are available to students across the institution.
Ukachukwu is committed to conducting research that has a positive impact on the world. She chose to study pharmacology because of its translational potential from research to practice. She is inspired by the ways in which discoveries in the laboratory can translate into real-world solutions, and ultimately treat disease. More specifically, Ukachukwu studies cardiac dysfunction in David Jones’ lab, and investigates ion channels in the heart. Through this research, she ultimately wants to look at ways to design drugs to regulate these channels to restore perturbed cardiac function as a way to treat disease. Long-term, Ukachukwu is committed to continuing research related to global health, citing the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the USA.
A second year PhD student, Ukachukwu’s academic career so far already includes many notable achievements. She was appointed to the NIH T32 Pharmacological Sciences Training Grant Program and has received several research and professional development grants through the Rackham Graduate School to support her research and extracurricular activities. She embarked on a scholarly project aimed at finding ways to combat antibiotic resistance as a Fulbright scholar and a Belgian American Educational Foundation (BAEF) fellow. Selected from a pool of over 500 Fulbright alumni applicants, she now serves as one of the 20 ambassadors for the Fulbright program, working to recruit a more diverse applicant pool. She also founded the organization ‘Fulbright Noir’ that aims to make the fellowship program more inclusive, allows a platform to highlight the achievements of black Fulbright scholars, and fosters a network of these recipients. In collaboration with the Fulbright Commission to Belgium, she organized and led the inaugural Fulbright Noir seminar, a two-day conference where 20 black Fulbright grantees, professionals, and government officials across Europe strategized ways to improve the Fulbright program, especially for black participants who are least represented.
Ukachukwu served on the Program in Biomedical Sciences (PIBS) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) task force, where she organized an event to help students of color respond to racism in professional settings, and continues to participate in outreach events focused on diversifying STEM fields and mentoring students interested in graduate school. She mentions that her drive to help others stems from wanting to pay forward the mentorship and support she received as an undergraduate and continues to receive as a graduate student.
Outside of lab and her DEI activities, Ukachukwu loves to dance. She was recently hired at the University of Michigan as an afrobeats dance instructor and will begin teaching dance classes at the North and Central Campus Recreation Buildings (CCRB/NCRB) in Winter 2019. She also loves to travel and explore new cultures, and plans to move abroad to France and Francophone Africa to do global health research for a few years after completing her PhD.