It is with a heavy heart that I sit down to write this issue of The Editor’s Pen, a very difficult piece for me to write. On Monday morning, May 15, 2017, Ngozi Ogbonnaya was found in her dorm room, dead of unknown causes. (Note, at the time of the writing of this article the cause of death was still not known to us in the Department of Genetics.)
Ngozi was a graduate student in the Department of Genetics and was performing her thesis research in the lab of our Department Chair, Dr. Lucio Miele. Born in Nigeria she came to the United States where she earned her Master’s degree at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, LA. She joined our PhD program in August of 2016 and had just completed her first year.
Ngozi was a beautiful and wonderful person, inside and out. A quiet person, she had a sweet personality and was someone who never wanted to be a bother to others. She was an intelligent woman who, like many of us in the world of academic science, always underestimated the true extent of her intelligence and abilities. She never accepted anything but the best from herself and set her personal goals high. She was a diligent, hard worker and in the short time she was in Dr. Miele’s lab had already generated significant amounts of high quality data.
As I do with many graduate students here at LSUHSC, I had a joking and light-hearted relationship with Ngozi. I am very much like my father in that I love joking with the students, giving them a hard time to keep them on their toes. I remember times in class when I would be returning exams. I would walk up to her with her exam seeing a look of trepidation on her face, afraid of knowing what grade she got but yet afraid of NOT knowing what her grade was! Before I would hand back the exam I’d look at her with a “concerned” look and say; “You’re really sure you want to know?” Her eyes would open wider as she’d say “No…. Stop it! Did I fail????” I’d play along a little longer (knowing full well that she had received one of the highest grades in the class), finally giving her exam back. Upon seeing her grade she would break into a huge smile, not only because she had done so well, but also because of the teasing I had given her.
It was her personality, too, that endeared her to her fellow graduate students. When the students heard of her passing, they immediately came to us in the department wanting to know what they could do to help us honor her and also what they could do to help Ngozi’s family. This response from the students moved me deeply. To see these students take the initiative and want to honor the memory of their friend and classmate and to provide for the family in the family’s time of grief and need, reminded me of just how amazing and special our students are.
Ngozi will be greatly missed, not only in our department but also throughout the School of Graduate Studies. In a short period of time she became more than a student; she became a friend, an integral part of our department, and a member of our family – a family that readily gave her a much-needed home away from home.
A memorial service was held for Ngozi on June 9, 2017 and the family has established a memorial fund in her name. If you are interested in contributing to this fund, please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.