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Benedicth Ukhueduan: Making Connections

Some can’t imagine spending hours looking at rocks, plants, and bugs. Growing up in Nigeria, that’s exactly what Benedicth Ukhueduan did. Now double majoring in chemistry and biochemistry, she studies the elements and compounds that make up the world around us. Those who can, see the universe in a grain of sand.

Benedicth Ukhueduam

Sophomore Benedicth Ukhueduan is pursuing a double major in chemistry and biochemistry.  

Curiosity is second nature to Benedicth Ukhueduan. As a child in Nigeria, she spent hours looking at bugs, rocks, and plants. She took apart small appliances. She wondered what paint was made of. And, she will tell you with a smile, she liked to blow things up. “Aerosol cans with matches – wow.”

Fast forward ten years or so and Ukhueduan is a sophomore at UMD with a duel major in chemistry and biochemistry. “Chemistry is like life,” she said. “It’s all the things around us, all the things we wear. I can make a very full connection with chemistry; that makes it easy for me.”

Pouring her energies into her classes, she has become a tenacious student. “School is an opportunity. What you learn, you can take and run with it,” she said.

Forging Bonds
Early in her freshman year, Ukhueduan heard about the Harry Oden Scholarship. “I didn’t think I could get it, but I thought I’d give it a chance.” Applying for the scholarship helped her to focus on her GPA. “It made me push myself – just a little bit more. It was a real motivation for me. When I learned I was chosen, I was so excited.”

The Harry Oden Scholarship has made a huge difference in her life. “My first semester as a freshman, I had three jobs, one on-campus and two off-campus. The second semester, I had two jobs,” she said. Now, with the scholarship, she works just one job on-campus at the Residence Dining Center. “Having the scholarship means I don’t have to take out as many loans.” That means a lot to her. “I’m putting myself through school,” she stated.

Applying for the scholarship also helped her to understand how willing her professors were to help her. When she asked her math professor, Rachel Breckinridge, for a letter of recommendation as part of the scholarship application process, Breckinridge readily agreed. “She knew who I was. It was a huge class. I didn’t even know she’d noticed me.”

This past summer, Ukhueduan was a Rock Star at UMD’s Welcome Week for freshman. Rock Stars lead groups of about 15 new students and help them to learn about the campus and feel more comfortable before classes begin. She tried to convey to her group of students that they should get to know their professors. “I told them, ‘Your teachers know you. If you ask questions, they will try to help you.’

Making Connections
Ukhueduan was living in Albertville, Minn., with her sister, when UMD recruiters visited her high school. “I had no clue what UMD was. The first time I saw the campus was when I came for advisement and registration,” she laughed.

She is happy that she chose UMD. “I have good teachers who care about me.” She has made it a priority to meet all of the professors in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in order to learn more about them and the research projects that they are working on.

This summer, she spent time in the labs of Associate Professor Anne Hinderliter and Professor Paul Kiprof. “I shadowed the professors and their graduate students,” she said. She learned the lab safety requirements in order to have that portion of her training completed before the start of fall semester. Soon she will be working on an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Project (UROP) with Kiprof. The UROP will explore boron-containing compounds.

Ukhueduan is considering a career as a neurosurgeon. Her energy and focus would serve her well in med school, and her warmth and optimism would be gratefully received at a patient’s bedside. Yet she is still discerning her path. “Looking around. You don’t see the atoms, but they are there,” she said. “You look at plants. You don’t see photosynthesis, but it’s going on.” The world is an intriguing place.

Those Who Can, Duluth


Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann, October 2012

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