Margaret Iwu has yet to take her first class at University of Detroit Mercy, but she already has boundless dreams for her future.
“Ever since I started watching sports, I always wanted to work at the Mayo Clinic or any environment with athletes,” she said.
Through the ReBUILDetroit program, Detroit Mercy is helping Iwu realize those dreams.
ReBUILDetroit, or Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity, is a National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiative with the goal of increasing diversity in biomedical research. The program encourages undergraduate students from underrepresented or economically disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM fields. These students are prepared to pursue doctoral studies through the program’s professional development resources.
A partnership between Detroit Mercy and Wayne State University, ReBUILDetroit was supported by an initial $21.2 million grant awarded in 2014. The consortium recently received a renewal for more than $19 million over five years and remains the only BUILD program in Michigan.
With goals centered on medicine, ReBUILDetroit appealed to Iwu.
“It sounded like a perfect opportunity for a student like me,” she said.
Iwu, who is a member of ReBUILDetroit’s fifth cohort, is studying Biochemistry at Detroit Mercy while adhering to a pre-medicine track. She faces a unique challenge during her undergraduate career, in addition to the academic rigors of the program. An accomplished three-sport athlete at Summit Academy High School in Romulus, Mich., Iwu will compete for Detroit Mercy’s varsity track and field team as a thrower, participating in discus, shot put and hammer throw field events.
“Not many kids from my school can say they’re going to college to play sports,” she said. “And I feel like that’s almost every athlete’s dream, to play college sports.”
Determining which higher education institution to attend is a stressful process for high school students. Iwu’s process was similar, but had another ripple — born in Nigeria, she is the first member of her family to attend college in the United States. Both of her parents attended university in the African country before immigrating to the U.S.
Detroit Mercy appealed to Iwu for several reasons, from its rich, Catholic traditions to small class sizes to location — she grew up south of the McNichols Campus, near Wyoming Avenue and Fenkell Avenue.
Iwu said ReBUILDetroit was one of the only college programs to reach out to her, which eased her decision.
“I think ReBUILDetroit is important for students like Margaret because it reaffirms that there’s a place for her,” said Theresa Lindsey, Ph.D., Detroit Mercy’s ReBUILDetroit student success coordinator. “And that’s what we’re doing. We’re saying: ‘You belong here and you can thrive in this type of environment.’ So we’re trying to provide her with all the necessary tools to get to the next level. I think it is important to look around and see like-minded students trying to get to where you’re going.”
Lindsey was one of the panelists in Iwu’s interview for acceptance into ReBUILDetroit. What caught Lindsey’s attention was Iwu’s authenticity.
“She moves with a purpose and I admire that about her,” Lindsey said.
ReBUILDetroit students receive a number of benefits through the program, including tuition scholarships, paid faculty-mentored research, extensive mentoring by faculty and peers in and outside the classroom, curriculum support and programming to prepare them for graduate studies and opportunities to present research at national conferences.
Iwu is already experiencing the dividends through ReBUILDetroit’s Summer Enrichment Program or SEP. The eight-week program readies incoming freshmen and transfer students for the rigors of ReBUILDetroit and creates a support network for students to lean on.
Through SEP, Iwu and her ReBUILDetroit peers are exposed to a variety of classes, training and educational workshops. It is much more than typical classwork — Iwu discovered she enjoys farming and gardening, and interactions with a host of biomedical professionals have inspired her to get started as a first-year ReBUILDetroit student.
“ReBUILD has put me on track to be a successful student in college,” she said.
Balancing life as a young adult and ReBUILDetroit’s academic responsibilities is not a simple task. Throwing in collegiate athletics at NCAA’s Division I level adds another challenging layer.
“They’re both extremely high priority in my life and I will try my hardest to excel in both ReBUILD and track and field, because those are the two things that brought me here,” Iwu said. “That’s something I thank God for every day, to be able to have an opportunity like this.”
Iwu is attacking the opportunity with determination, a glowing smile and an encouraging motto: “Every ReBUILD student has to find a way,” she said.