Graduates from a leading UK university who missed out on in-person graduation celebrations due to the pandemic are returning for official ceremonies this week, but for one graduate this trip to the University of Dundee is his first.
Chidi Okonkwo, who is originally from Anambra, Nigeria, secured a Commonwealth Scholarship to study Infection Prevention & Control (IPC), a postgraduate distance learning course at the University of Dundee, in 2017.
Commonwealth Scholarships are given to talented individuals from the least developed Commonwealth countries and are aimed at those who could not otherwise afford to study at a UK university.
Throughout the distance learning course, Chidi (29) stayed in his home country Nigeria, studying online and attending some in-person University events hosted in Ghana. He officially graduated in 2021, becoming Dundee’s first Commonwealth Scholar to do so for the MSc Infection Prevention and Control programme.
“When I saw the opportunity to apply for the Commonwealth Scholarship it was something I really wanted to do, so I gave it a shot,” said Chidi. “While I was hopeful, I couldn’t believe that I was chosen. I have not experienced anything like it all through my education.”
Chidi completed his undergraduate degree in human physiology at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria, and the IPC course was a natural progression for him. At the time he was already engaged in health programmes in Nigerian schools, teaching children about the importance of personal hygiene.
“Awareness of infection control and prevention in my country only really started a few years ago,” he said. “After the Ebola crisis people began to realise the importance of hygiene and hand-washing as a prevention method.
“There was a need to inform students in primary schools so they can incorporate the habit of personal hygiene from a young age and know about infections and ways to prevent it, and they can also help their parents when they get home.
“I’ll use the knowledge I acquired from this learning to inform others. It has helped me understand how to create some change, because we need to apply some changed techniques to improve and create newer ways of doing things. This course has helped me immensely.
“I want my education to make a difference, especially in my home country. We have so many health challenges and I want to impact my society, especially a developing country like Nigeria. I want to reach my immediate society and go forward to west Africa, and potentially even further to help influence health practices around the world.”
With the help of the University’s School of Health Sciences, Chidi has flown from Nigeria to Scotland to be able to attend his in-person graduation ceremony on Wednesday 29 June.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to come to Dundee,” he said. “This is my first time coming to the UK, to Scotland. I can’t wait to wear my gown and graduate officially.
“I’m excited to meet some of my lecturers who I haven’t met yet, visit and explore the University campus and School and see where the lectures take place. I’m also looking forward to learning more, meeting new people and interact, network and discuss.”
Thousands of 2020 and 2021 graduates are returning to Dundee from 28 June-1 July for special ceremonies in lieu of their original graduations, which were unable to be held in person due to Covid-19 restrictions.