By John Akudike, Masters Student Texas Tech University

“Why not apply?”, I asked myself for the umpteenth time. “You’d enjoy the experience and exposure”, a part of me assured. “No, you don’t even stand a chance! You’re not a student yet” another part of me accused. This was the silent battle going on in me at the time the call for applications to the GSA On To The Future (OTF) program was open in May. Alas, while I was yet to make the 6,800 miles travel from Lagos, Nigeria to Texas, USA to commence my studies at that time, I was soon to be a student having been accepted for a Master’s degree in Geosciences at Texas Tech University, and I knew I would be enrolled as a Research Assistant by the time the GSA Connects 2021 meeting was to commence in October. But this was not enough to convince me, so I stalled till the last week of May when the application was scheduled to close, and I yet wasn’t convinced. I then reached out to a mentor, the phenomenal Ogochukwu Ozotta an OTF alumnus, who encouraged me to go for it, and so I did. I went all-in with my application, pouring my heart out and sharing my story and journey through life – a story of fortitude and faith. Today, the rest is history.

At Texas Tech University during the first week of school in late August

As a first-generation black graduate student, I come from a low-income background, and this inadvertently created a limiting mindset in me. Among my peers, this limiting mindset revealed itself in not seeing beyond the circumstances we were born into. In our naivety and as toddlers we thought the western world – which we only saw through television – existed physically above our world. We thought they were better, as they were closer to the celestial bodies than we were. However, I always had a curiosity that never seemed to be satiated; I wanted to learn more, to see more, to do more. So, while some of my peers were contented to play safe, I always had a nagging within that I could do and be whomever I wanted to be because my parents had inculcated positive, inquisitive attitudes in my siblings and me. We received immense support from them as they took on loans and incurred debts to ensure my siblings got formal education to the tertiary level. As if that was not enough, I was hugely introverted as a child, but with their support again, I learned to look beyond the present circumstances, always believing that all will be well if only I work intentionally and put in the right efforts to make this belief reality. The morals and values I got from my parents also helped me build a mindset to serve – working hard to make them proud, helping others succeed, and continually making society better. To date, these principles have helped me traverse numerous episodes of self-doubt and imposter syndrome, as I assure myself during such occasions that my efforts are not for my benefit alone, but the good of society. Thus, my family not only supported me but created an enabling environment for me to thrive, by giving me the freedom to choose the career path I am passionate about – Geosciences.

In addition to my curiosity, I have always been adventurous. I loved the outdoors and always looked forward to road trips. These traits and love for energy provision and geography informed my decision to study geoscience. To support my studies, I applied for and secured the Nigerian Agip Oil Company Undergraduate Merit Scholarship and the Society of Exploration Geophysicists 75th Anniversary Scholarship, which funded my undergraduate education. I did not stop there, but I went on to help other students secure these same scholarships and numerous more. For my undergraduate studies, I majored in geophysics, and with the strong moral background I was raised in, I not only excelled academically but also served extensively as a student and young professional leader in various professional associations such as the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG), the Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE), and the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers (EAGE), during and after college, and graduated with First Class Honors from the Federal University of Technology Owerri in 2019. This was made possible because over time I had come to realize that my motivation increases when I work to support good causes and that I could only rise by lifting others. This realization, I term ‘the process called growth’. Currently, on my Master’s degree, I look forward to specializing in basin and petroleum systems modeling for long-term and sustainable CO2 storage.

Connecting people to driving change and reversing ill narratives in society has always been a goal for me; while guiding students to win scholarships and sponsorships, I knew I was connecting their potentials with resources that would help them live their dreams and I also know that through my little efforts, a ripple effect would be created where those beneficiaries would go on to guide other students who needed support. These seemingly little acts of kindness go a long way and can make all the difference in one’s life, so I forge on. Likewise, teaching others to learn new concepts has always been a strong point for me as there is no greater feeling than seeing the twinkling in the eyes of others to whom I teach new concepts. To scale my impact, I try to seek opportunities to improve my skills and knowledge, and although I can be quite reserved, I put myself out there, attending conferences, partaking in workshops, and training to become better. It was on the search to attend conferences that I saw the On To The Future program application, and despite my fears, I applied some faith and received the good news of my selection to receive partial funding to attend my first international conference – the 2021 GSA Connects Meeting.

At the poster session at GSA Connects 2021

Through the pre-conference On To The Future meetings, I began connecting with professionals and students alike. While some could not make it physically to the meeting, I agreed on times to meet physically with those who could – people whom I knew would be instrumental in helping me scale my impact. I knew the conference would provide me with numerous opportunities to unlearn, learn and relearn; as such, I was open to gaining as many insights as I could. It somehow became quite overwhelming, but I had made good connections and had a great time! Through the conference, I connected with amazing professionals, fellows, and members of GSA who were very receptive in sharing their stories and offering advice to budding geoscientists like me.

Overall, the conference was one immersive experience I would not forget in a hurry. The short course, poster sessions, and technical sessions I joined were very insightful and it felt good sharing with others, the knowledge we had garnered and plans we had for the future of geoscience. As one who always seeks opportunities to help – as this takes me out of my comfort zone and helps me connect with others – I opted to volunteer about 14.5 hours before and during the conference despite not being obligated to do so. Service has always been a passion for me, and I just couldn’t wait to give back to the organization that had allowed me to attend my first international conference amongst other exciting perks. I volunteered as a short course assistant and as a GSA RISE (Respectful Inclusive Scientific Events) liaison before the conference, and as a registration assistant during the conference. At the conference, I also joined the Diversity in the Geosciences Committee meeting and was impressed at the innovative initiative GSA was instituting to change the narrative and ensure minorities and disadvantaged are not only acknowledged but provided access and the right accommodation they need to live their dreams too. Connecting with other OTF awardees, alumni, and professionals during the OTF dinner was simply surreal to say the least and I am most grateful to have been considered to drive positive change in geosciences. Through several sessions with professionals and my peers at the conference, I learned about more opportunities in geoscience and how I can scale my impact as an international student in the U.S. I learned that I would have to be more intentional in putting in the work and following excellence in my studies, scientific research, and social development, and I am the better today, for the lessons I learned at GSA.

With Prof. Hendratta Ali and other OTF Scholars at the Dinner Night

To date, I acknowledge that I am not only a product of fortitude and faith, but most importantly a beneficiary of the support of a ‘village’ of personalities – my family, mentors, professors, and friends, organizations such as EducationUSA and GSA, and I immensely thank all who have directly and indirectly supported my dreams by offering the scholarships, sponsorships, mentorship, and guidance that has led me to where I am now. My greatest ambition will always be to pay this support forward in service to humanity, giving others hope where there seems to be none and doing my best to make the world better through my work. The GSA community is one that I am proud to be a part of and look forward to contributing some more to. Going forward, I would not hesitate to utilize the knowledge gained to assist other students too, giving hope where there is none and proving that with fortitude and faith, everything is possible.

With other students who I was mostly meeting for the very first time

Editor’s Note: GSA’s The On To the Future program supports students from diverse communities to attend GSA Connects by offering partial travel funding if attending in-person, full or online meeting registration, one-year membership, mentorship, and special sessions with leadership during the meeting. Scholars have the choice to participate in-person or virtually, as do participating mentors. The application deadline for the 2022 program is 3 June.