Ijebusonma “Sonma” Agundu was 17 years old when she emigrated from Nigeria to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.

She studied life sciences at Middlesex Community College on the recommendation of a close friend, Imade Ogdebor ’20, who had started at Middlesex and then transferred to UMass Lowell, where she earned a degree in finance.

“She said how great the transition from Middlesex to UMass Lowell was, and she thought it would be a really good fit,” Agundu says. “I was really homesick at first, but then I got used to it. When you have a dream of being something, you just keep striving to get it.”

Agundu, whose parents support her educational journey, wants to become an obstetrician and gynecologist. Her younger sister plans on becoming a pediatrician. Together, they hope to open a clinic in Nigeria to provide care for women with fertility issues or pregnancy complications and for their newborns as well.

“Babies are such a bundle of joy, and it’s heartbreaking when people can’t have them,” she says.

Agundu overcame her homesickness by helping others. While at Middlesex, she tutored other international students in English and served as a peer tutor and instruction mentor leader in precalculus and other classes. She was the commencement speaker when she graduated with her associate degree in 2020, and she now serves on the board of Middlesex’s alumni association, with a focus on fundraising for scholarships.

After transferring to UMass Lowell as a premed biology major, she continued her campus involvement as a student ambassador for Multicultural Affairs, Inclusion Excellence chair for the Black Student Union, and co-founder of the Minorities in Health Science Club.

She is also a Student Government Association senator, and she works as an organic chemistry tutor and a campus advocate for prevention education, talking to other students about sexual violence and mental health. For all of her efforts on campus, she was honored with a 2022 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award.

Early on, she joined the MAGIC program, started by Chemistry Assoc. Prof. Khalilah Reddie to help students from underrepresented groups prepare for advanced medical degrees. She also works as an organic chemistry tutor under Reddie’s supervision.

“Prof. Reddie has always been that amazing mentor to me,” Agundu says. “The MAGIC program made me feel like I could dream big and achieve everything I wanted to.”

Agundu volunteers at a hospice and at Tufts Medical Center to gain patient care experience. When seeking research opportunities, she discovered that Prof. Tim Ford, chair of the Public Health Department, does community-based research on waterborne diseases, including cholera in Haiti.

Agundu asked Ford if they could team up to address cholera in Nigeria, where it is endemic in half the country. She spent winter break of her senior year talking with government health officials in two northern states to figure out how best to help poor communities address basic sanitation problems.

After earning her bachelor’s degree, Agundu plans on taking a gap year to continue that research and her volunteer work, as she studies for the Medical College Admission Test and applies to medical schools.

She’s grateful for scholarships, as well as the chance to work as an RA and as a campus tour guide, so she can graduate without debt. She wants to keep helping others, in turn.

“I’m always very interested in advocating for people, because when you have to do something for yourself, you always want to make life easier for others who come after you,” she says.