Why did you choose to attend Minerva?
By the time I was deciding on a university, I had been admitted to a couple top colleges, most of which offered me full-ride scholarships. Then I found Minerva, a newer school that I had read about on the internet. Choosing to attend Minerva was a big step, but I liked that it was a new institution trying to solve big problems in higher education. So, I thought, “Let’s try this.” Minerva was, in a sense, telling me, “If you want to attend this school, be ready to be challenged. Do you think you can handle it?” — and I liked that.
What classes have you most enjoyed at Minerva?
The classes that I have enjoyed the most have been the ones that inspired me to apply what I’ve learned in them to the outside world. I know I’ve been inspired when I’m compelled to continue exploring a topic I’ve learned in class — and I think this happens a lot at Minerva.
Tell us about a co-curricular that has challenged the way you think.
In San Francisco, I participated in a co-curricular called “Hunting for Unicorns” with 500 Startups, one of the world’s top startup accelerators. We focused on understanding the perspective of venture capitalists. I was curious about the startup process, from how innovators apply for funding to what investors look for when evaluating proposals. My experience with 500 Startups challenged me to think about how I present myself and my ideas to others. This later came in handy when I pitched my capstone project proposal to my advisor. I thought about what type of content I wanted to present, how to organize and deliver it in an intriguing cogent manner, and what outside materials I needed to include to create a successful proposal.
What do you enjoy most about being part of the Minerva community?
I am surrounded by highly motivated people, something that attracted me to Minerva from the start. I believe that if you want to stay motivated, you have to have incredible people around to remind yourself to stay focused on what you are trying to achieve. At Minerva, I get really fired up by all of the incredible things people around me are doing. Just when I start to think something can’t be done, I find out one of my classmates has already done it and I realize it is possible.
On top of that, my classmates are very nice human beings who are always willing to help. Our student community is very homogeneous and heterogeneous at the same time. It’s homogeneous in the sense that we share very particular qualities. But at the same time, we are also really different. That’s the beauty of this community, and that’s why I appreciate it so much.
What would you tell another student who is considering Minerva?
If you want to come out of your university experience significantly better in both intellect and character than when you started, and if you’re willing to go through a very rigorous education system in order to do so, then Minerva may be right for you. If you know you want to have a very impactful life and learn how to analyze your options in a meaningful way, and if you’re willing to put in a lot of effort to make that impact, this is probably the place for you. However, if the idea of being challenged doesn’t excite you, it may not be the right fit.
What are some of your passions and interests?
I have a vast array of interests and passions. First of all, I like getting to know people. I find the process very interesting. I also love philosophy because it gets me thinking and makes me see things in different ways. Also, I enjoy philosophical conversations with my friends.
I am also passionate about biology. I want to pursue a career in medicine in order to improve Nigeria’s healthcare system, which is, currently, not good. Getting medical treatment there is expensive, inaccessible, and — this is the most problematic of the three — inadequate. Nigerians worry about very basic surgeries, due to the lack of proper tools and the doctors’ (lack of) experience. I hope to help make high-quality healthcare affordable in Nigeria.
How did you become involved with the Biology and International Science Olympiads?
When I went to high school, after being named state champion in the Junior International Science Olympiad, I was chosen to prepare for the Biology Olympiad. There, I was named state champion, but I did not qualify for the national competition. So, I started studying a lot and, in tenth grade, was one of four students to travel to Singapore to represent Nigeria in the final international round of competition. During my final year of high school, I returned to the International Science Olympiad and placed in the finals again. To this day, I remain involved in the Olympiads. In fact, last year I was invited to train the International Mathematics and Biology Olympiad students from Uganda and Nigeria.
What skills or lessons have you learned at Minerva that have been useful to your studies?
I have always been good at public speaking, a skill that has helped me in a variety of ways at Minerva. Mainly, it has come in handy for classes, which we take on the Active Learning Forum, because students must be ready to speak at a moment’s notice. In fact, I think one skill that every Minerva student acquired the ability to talk and think quickly.
Another thing I’ve developed is my ability to think. Though this may sound cliché, it’s true. Understanding the multiple ways I can arrive at an answer is as important as the solution itself. Take #analogy, one of Minerva’s habits of minds and foundational concepts (HCs), for example. If you compare your current problem to a similar problem that you have already solved, you may be able to see if a similar solution can be applied. When I was conducting research for my publication on the effect of human agent behavior on the biological network, I compared them to what I knew about communication and political networks. I realized that all networks had similar, unifying properties. As a result, I was able to put together and transfer principles between these seemingly unrelated networks to help me make predictions and solve my research question.
Tell us about your summer research position at Pennsylvania State University.
I was an undergraduate researcher at Pennsylvania State College of Medicine. I heard about the position on a professional development site and was selected because of my previous research, and subsequent publications, on whether a protein was responsible for liver autophagy in diabetic patients. At Penn State, I had the opportunity to work in a laboratory with a postdoctoral student who had done similar research on retinopathy due to hyperglycemia and increased blood glucose levels. During my internship, I cultured and exposed liver cells to endoplasmic reticulum stress and looked for markers to see if the specific protein was expressed. Beyond the research itself, I bonded so much with everyone in the lab. It was an amazing experience.
What HCs did you find most useful during this experience?
The first was #experimentaldesign. Because we were running different types of experiments and looking at time process experiments, we needed to achieve results that were conclusive. We aimed to show that there is causation between a select protein and liver autophagy, not just correlation. That brings me to the second HC: #correlation. There is a lot of correlation within the biological network since many proteins interact with one another. For my study, in order to help diabetic patients, we needed to address whether this specific protein was responsible for atrophy in hypoglycemic cells. The third HC was #creativeheuristics. We started with a hypothesis and iterated our hypothesis after each new discovery using creative heuristics. After we saw an interaction and observed a response, we had to decide how to test the next stage of the experiment with the new information.
Were your experiments successful?
Yes, my experiment was successful in the sense that it was not disproven. My internship took place over two months, which is not enough time to complete a peer-reviewed scientific publication. But the research I completed gave my team a “kick start” in the right direction. We already knew that this protein was responsible for liver cell atrophy in diabetic patients, but we had to prove it with more than just correlative findings.
What are you most proud of looking back at this experience?
For one, I learned the laboratory techniques pretty fast. Because of my classes at Minerva, I am able to read and understand new concepts quickly. Additionally, I am proud to have had some really interesting debates with some of my colleagues. For the first time in my life, everyone around me was interested in medicine. It was great being surrounded by people with the same passion as me.
If you were inspired by Ivan’s story and are seeking a college experience that will teach you valuable pragmatic skills that will enable you to change the world, apply to join Minerva today.