A high school education in Nigeria set the tone for a collegiate life devoted to service, medicine and engineering.
Biomedical engineering graduate Tilden Chima has always been curious about biology and medicine. But it was a Nigerian journey to Lagos and Abuja that changed his life.
“My Jesuit high school in Abuja, Loyola Jesuit College, was not what one would expect of a boarding school in Africa,” he said. “Preppy, polished and highly accomplished adolescents from a variety of backgrounds lay in stark contrast to the uninformed, uneducated kids often portrayed in Western media.”
Chima’s parents worked to ensure the cultivation of their son’s passions for science, even finding private tutors and resources that would boost his education.
“My mom had the habit of sitting my sister and I down and reading science tomes she had purchased from UK publishers … reading through them with us as if they were novels,” said Chima, who graduated from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering on May 11.
Making his mark at USC
After graduating in Abuja, Chima was offered admission to several top colleges, but what sold him on USC were the people and the flexibility of the biomedical engineering program — the only one in the country that offered four tracks: a general track, an electrical engineering track, a mechanical engineering track and a biochemical engineering track.
“Visiting the Facebook group of newly admitted students,” Chima said, “I could feel the eagerness and the excitement of people wanting to go here.”
He jumped right in, joining the National Society of Black Engineers, Trojan Health Connection and many other clubs and organizations.
His senior design project, a biofeedback device for the correction of improper posture, was honored at the Viterbi Undergraduate Awards, coming in third at the 2018 Senior Design Expo. As a freshman, he was a research fellow in the National Institutes of Health-funded Genomic Research Experience for Undergraduates, conducting addiction research at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
He followed that with an interdisciplinary project to build a better diagnostic tool for diabetic retinopathy. And as an upperclassman, he served with the Trojan Consulting Group, USC Viterbi’s official undergraduate organization that offers business advice to corporate clients such as Chevron and Oakley.
A humanitarian in the making
But it was service of humanity that will be Chima’s major takeaway from his Trojan education.
“In all the leadership roles and extracurricular projects I took at USC, there was always this overarching question of how this will help or benefit society or the immediate community,” Chima said. “This was something my professors, the faculty I conducted research with, my mentors and even Dean [Yannis] Yortsos reinforced when they spoke to me.
“This particular way of viewing my actions as being part of a greater mission of service to humanity has colored my worldview since high school and much further in college. I would be taking that with me as I move on to the workplace.”
Chima will now put his network, education, and experiences to work in a position as a full-time associate solutions engineer at Oracle.
“I will be taking Oracle’s software products that have already been built, extend them with my coding skills and integrate them with other Oracle products, thereby building a ‘solution’ that is tailored to our client’s specific needs,” he said.
Chima sees it as a perfect fit, allowing him to blend his business consulting, sales and engineering skills into multinational projects.
And if he ever needs advanced coding help, he can turn to fellow Trojan and sister Kourtney Chima, a junior in computer science and computer engineering who organized this year’s Hack SC Jr’s Hackathon.
Looking back, Chima recalls an eventful childhood with his pharmacist parents.
“Our home in Maryland was like a 24-hour pharmacy consultation window for family and friends calling for medical advice,” Chima said. “My mom often joked that out of the three of us children, we needed to choose who would be the orthopedic surgeon to take care of her bones and who would be the cardiothoracic surgeon to take care of her heart in old age.”
By Kieran Sweeney