Emmanuel Ohuabunwa

“I think the Society in itself opens doors to the connections one needs to excel as a professional in any field.”

By Christine Noah

An outstanding young mind has just joined the Phi Beta Kappa community. Emmanuel Ohuabunwa, a neuroscience major from Johns Hopkins University, graduated in May with a remarkable 3.98 GPA and is furthering his studies at the Yale University School of Medicine this fall.

Ohuabunwa and his family immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria when he was thirteen years old. Though it was a tough transition, Ohuabunwa decided to make the most of his opportunity to get an American education. He knew he wanted to pursue a career in the medical field, so he set his sights on one of the best programs in the country: Johns Hopkins University.

“Receiving my acceptance letter to Hopkins elicited polar emotions,” Ohuabunwa says. “First came the elation that all my hard work during high school had come to fruition. That feeling, however, quickly fizzled out, replaced by fear. As I walked onto the campus, talking to some of the students, hearing about their groundbreaking research, and how they had done everything short of saving the world from AIDS, I immediately knew that I was in for a challenge.”

Ohuabunwa took that challenge head-on. He split his time between the library and the lab, pouring himself into his work and figuring out which study skills suited his learning style. “Through trial and error I was able to understand that what separated the top students from the rest was a drive to not just memorize the material but to understand and apply it in novel situations.”

Once he got his bearings Ohuabunwa excelled in neuroscience, easily mastering complex ideas and impressing faculty and fellow students alike. “ Emmanuel is not so much a person as a force of nature,” says Stewart Hendry, a professor of neuroscience at JHU. Hendry worked with Ohuabunwa closely during his time at Hopkins, sharing meaningful discussions that have had quite an impact. “What I got from him was wisdom and perspective and questions that had me think through things taken for granted over a long academic career,” Hendry says.

His peers also benefited from Ohuabunwa’s knowledge and passion for the subject. From the beginning, he would mentor other students in his classes, showing them the skills needed to prosper in such a rigorous major. Hendry took note of this and, in 2010, invited Ohuabunwa to be an undergraduate teaching assistant: “Emmanuel led a quartet of other upperclassmen in providing sophomores with the ways and means of acquiring a real understanding of many seriously difficult concepts. The success of those who took that class can be placed at Emmanuel’s feet.”

In addition to his work as a student, Ohuabunwa participated in research projects. At JHU he worked in Dr. Charlotte Summer’s lab, studying Spinal Muscular Atrophy. He also spent time at the Snyder Center for Aphasia, helping aphasia patients speak by giving cues in different forms of communication. These experiences taught Ohuabunwa “the importance of an unwavering curiosity and hard-work in the quest for scientific truths.” At Yale, he hopes to pursue research in both neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimers) and traumatic brain injuries.

Hendry believes that Ohuabunwa will only continue to make waves: “Emmanuel stood out for an intellect so rare it touches upon the unique and a personality that I fear is once-in-a-lifetime but that I wish were commonplace. He left his mark, first on us, next on Yale and, all the while, on the world.”

Emmanuel Ohuabunwa will surely prove to be an invaluable addition to the Phi Beta Kappa Society—an accolade that he could not be more thrilled about. “I think the Society in itself opens doors to the connections one needs to excel as a professional in any field. It is such an honor to be inducted into a society filled with people of this caliber. It is the culmination of a lot of hard work and perseverance during my time at Hopkins.”

Christine Noah is a senior at Davidson College majoring in English. Davidson is home to the Gamma of North Carolina chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

Photo at top: Emmanuel Ohuabunwa receiving his Phi Beta Kappa award from Dr. Kelly Gebo, former president of Johns Hopkins University’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter.