Path 2 Highlands – GHC alumnus speaks of his journey from living in Nigeria to Morehouse

Chukwuemeka Nwikike at Morehouse contributed

Chukwuemeka Nwkike in the anatomy lab at Morehouse. Photo contributed.

I am the first of six children born to Nigerian civil servants who sent me to the United States to pursue an education and a better life. I was suddenly an African teenage immigrant figuring out how to survive and assimilate on my own. I worked two or three jobs at a time to pay bills and send money home. However, it seemed like I spent most of my time working which left little time for anything else, and all the good jobs I could find required qualifications and/or experience which I did not have. As far as I was concerned there was only one path: go to school.

I started classes at GHC in the summer of 2009. I still wanted to become a physician, but I figured I would approach that goal slowly by first becoming a nurse.

Veronica Morin was the first of many people integral to my success I would meet at GHC that summer. This instructor was animated, coming up with crazy yet relevant ways of explaining biological concepts.

Joseph McCauley was the Rome campus A&P I lab instructor in the summer of 2009. So many students go through their academic careers wishing to meet an instructor like McCauley. He would use scientific jargon but sensing our confusion, he would switch to common language while preserving salient points of the concepts which he was conveying. He made Scooby-Doo as insightful as Mark Twain.

I met the third person integral to my collegial comeback, Eileen Walker. She was my advisor and the closest thing to a guidance counselor I ever had. She knew the catalog backwards, forwards and in any other direction imaginable. I simply told her what I wanted to do and she showed me how to get it done.

Everything went well until late registration for Spring semester 2010 when I could only afford to pay for one class, which took me to the financial aid office. That was when I discovered that I had been eligible for financial aid for three years already. The patient ladies at the financial aid office even arranged to have my payments for that semester refunded to me at a later date.

I applied to GHC’s nursing program and was accepted in the fall of 2010 to attend at the Marietta campus.

I was making progress and actually began to believe becoming a physician was within reach. I just had to keep pushing. I arranged to attend summer school at Georgia State University and begin working on my Bachelor’s degree. I found myself isolated but I understood why. Teachers really could not attend to each student’s needs due to overwhelming numbers. When I needed to talk to a professor, I simply called McCauley or any of the other instructors at GHC.

My time at GHC was not all about academics. I joined two organizations that taught me about community, giving back and stopping to help others, Phi Theta Kappa and Brother-2-Brother.

I earned three degrees and two minors between summer 2009 and Spring 2013. When I was ready to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), I could not afford books to study on my own. Dr. Hershey, the Brother-2-Brother faculty advisor and another Brother-2-Brother member, Joey Johnson, donated old and new books to me. I was accepted to the Morehouse School of Medicine and am currently a first year candidate for the Doctor of Medicine degree, class of 2017.

I remember playing basketball in the GHC gym after classes in the Spring semester of 2011 with some students. One of them was a Shorter student and he asked another student when he would be graduating Georgia Highlands College. The GHC student answered that he would be done in May of the same year. This elicited a smile from the Shorter student who went on to say “Good. Then you can finally go to a real school.”

I wish I had a time machine so I could go back to the Shorter student in the gym. This is what I would say:

“Georgia Highlands College accepted me when no other school would, despite my low GPA, socioeconomic status, beliefs, origins and lack of athletic ability. I met instructors who stayed with me even after I left the school. I met instructors who took time to get to know me personally. Despite my best efforts I could not remain anonymous. GHC gave me tools to succeed and guided me in my professional development. My test prep for probably the hardest standardized exam out there was what my GHC instructors taught me. At GHC I met faculty and staff who believed in and rooted for me. I was not a smart student but they made me feel like one. They proved hard work beats brains. Furthermore, I got the same undergraduate education for much less. I attended a top notch nursing program, one of the best in the state of Georgia. What are you doing on my basketball court? You are not a Charger.”