Johns Hopkins research part of student study



Rita Forbes

Don’t let Joshua Onuiri fool you.

The senior biology and accounting major may be more than he seems.

Sitting behind the circulation desk at the library, walking across campus bundled up in a hat and gloves, or eating at the international table in the cafeteria, he may seem like any other student. But start asking a few questions, and it will become apparent that he is far from ordinary.

Start with his name. If “Onuiri” is hard to pronounce, good luck with his full name: Joshua Enyeribenyem Chimeziri Onuirindiuwalonu.

The surprises don’t stop there, though.

Onuiri left his home in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2004, to study at a place called Missouri Southern State University. All he knew about the University was that it was small and that the honors program had offered him a full-ride scholarship.

“My old school [in Nigeria] was big,” he said, “and I didn’t like it at all. It was overcrowded. We were sitting on the floor during lectures.”

While Onuiri does not care for either Missouri weather or cafeteria food, he appreciates MSSU’s close-knit atmosphere.

“My professors actually know who I am here,” he said. “It is really good. Of course, I don’t have to sit on the floor anymore. That was one of the things that I really liked in my first and second semesters here.”

The core curriculum has rounded out his education in important ways, too.

“While I was struggling to learn history, it made me realize that I should learn some of my country’s history,” he said. “So I’m trying to currently make it through a Nigerian history textbook.”

Last summer, Onuiri was accepted into a prestigious research program at Johns Hopkins University. He still remembers the day he received the e-mail telling him he had been accepted.

“I was pinching myself, saying, ‘OK, is this real, is this real?'” he said. “It was incredible.”

Onuiri learned about research methods and procedures during his stint at Hopkins.

“I was trying to grow bacteria and kill them, basically,” he said. “I also got to meet this amazing group of really, really smart people. Sometimes I would feel out of place, you know?”

But why he would feel out of place in a group of smart people remains a mystery. One of this year’s three outstanding biology graduates, Onuiri has taken more classes in a single semester than some students take in an entire academic year. His record high is 29 credit hours in the fall 2006 semester.

“You just go to class and do it,” he said. “That’s what I think. Just go to class and do it. And I won’t say I’m the best student ever, because I’m not. I procrastinate a lot. But you just do it.”

Research at Hopkins has been a highlight of Onuiri’s college experience. But there have also been difficulties. He has not been home for a visit once in four years.

“My sister got married, and she gave birth to a son, and he’s already one year old, and I don’t know what he looks like,” he said. “And of course it doesn’t help when these bells out here begin to play ‘There’s no Place Like Home.'”

Onuiri hasn’t completely lost touch with home, though. On Oct. 1 last semester, he wore a traditional Nigerian garment, called a “buba and sokoto,” all day.

“I’m very sure people looked at me,” he said, “but I didn’t care. I actually wore it so that people would ask me questions, and then I told them, ‘This is my country’s independence day.'”