A student from the Democratic Republic of the Congo has entered pharmacy school at The University of Toledo with the help of the STEM DRC Initiative. The organization is a nonprofit founded by Dr. Ngalula Mubenga, Ph.D., PE. The program serves deserving Congolese students by providing tuition and mentoring to those seeking degrees in STEM fields at universities in the DRC.
The student is 23-year-old Isaac Kaba, who transferred to UToledo from the University of Kinshasa this fall. It was a complicated process that involves a UToledo professor’s NGO which supports STEM education in the Congo.
Excerpts from a press release published at news.utoledo.edu on October 18, 2021 are shown below:
A few years ago, Kaba received a scholarship from a nonprofit called STEM DRC Initiative to support his studies at the University of Kinshasa in the DR Congo.
Kaba learned that the nonprofit was started by Dr. Ngalula Mubenga, who founded the organization to promote STEM education in her home country. She also just happens to be an assistant professor in engineering technology at UToledo.
It was the first time Kaba had ever heard of The University of Toledo.
When Kaba researched American pharmacy programs, he found out UToledo had one of the top programs in Ohio and in the country. He recalled that Mubenga had attended UToledo.
…Victor Finch, UToledo director of international admissions, was impressed by Kaba’s persistence throughout the admission process.
“Undergraduate students from this part of the world have a less than 10 percent chance of being approved to study in the United States,” Finch said. “Isaac and I emailed, had Zoom meetings and connected through WhatsApp throughout the entire process. Isaac handled the entry process to get into the United States, his quarantine, finding a place to live and getting his vaccination all in stride.”
Kaba was able to transfer 155 of his credits and is considered a senior. But because the science classes he took in the DR Congo are considered electives in the U.S., he has to take some labs before he’s fully admitted to the professional portion of the Pharm.D. program.
Throughout his academic career, Kaba has been an enthusiastic, ambitious student. He is dedicated to his studies ― often the top student in his classes ― as well as leadership and community engagement.
He was selected for the Congo Leadership Initiative in 2013, an effort to empower young Congolese in leadership and entrepreneurship. While at university, he interned at a pharmacy and founded the National Association of Pharmacy Students, becoming its general secretary.
“I love being involved in my community,” he said.
Not one to sit idle, Kaba decided to do some research while his classes were suspended during COVID.
“I saw my grandparents treat skin problems with medicinal plants,” he said. “Congo is a country of biodiversity. I am interested in natural product research.”
A professor helped him launch his research project to see what compounds in the plants helped treat skin issues.
“I found that medicinal plants had strong powers, antibacterial and antioxidant activity that justified their use for skin disease,” Kaba said.
His team’s research was published last year in the Journal of Biosciences and Medicines. Kaba was listed as lead author.
It’s his interest in research that impressed Dr. Heidi Appel, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College. She met Kaba at an event for potential honors students this fall.
“When Isaac talked about his undergraduate research, his face lit up,” she said, “and I knew he belonged in the Honors College. We’re so thrilled that he’s now an Honors Rocket.”
Kaba hopes to move forward with his research at UToledo. He recently was accepted into the lab of Dr. Ghassan Abushaikha, a research assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy.
“I would like to go back to my country, bring back what I learned here,” he said, “and innovate and improve the pharmaceutical field there.”
Kaba’s ambition to return to the DRC to improve life for fellow Congolese people is the very reason Dr. Mubenga founded the STEM DRC Initiative. The NGO has awarded over 100 STEM Scholarships to worthy Congolese students in recent years. She notes that “The quality of the program is validated by the STEM DRC Scholarship recipients being able to transfer to U.S. Colleges. I am very happy to have my nonprofit work with STEM DRC Initiative result in students planning to use their education to give back to their home country.”
Learn more about the STEM DRC Initiative program, goals, and accomplishments at StemDrcInitiative.org