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Norbesida Bagabila

College: Borough of Manhattan Community College
Awards: Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship, 2017

A Goal of Joining Western Technology With Traditional African Medicine

When Norbesida Bagabila left the West African nation of Burkina Faso in 2012 at age 20, he spoke only the local and official languages, Moore and French.

In New York, he worked as a dishwasher, a 7-Eleven cashier and an airport security officer, often logging 60 hours a week while saving for his education. He delivered food for a restaurant so he could talk with Americans - even if at first it was only by using his phone's translation program. "All the time my goal was to learn English," he explains.

After two and half years, he was ready for higher education. "Borough of Manhattan Community College made me feel welcome."

Graduating in 2017 as a science major with a 3.83 GPA, he has tutored his peers in mathematics, joined the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society and won both an America Needs You (ANY) Fellowship, a two-year mentorship and leadership program, and a Kaplan Scholarship, which guides top New York City community college students of color in transferring to and graduating from highly selective four-year colleges.

Now, Bagabila has collected another major honor, a nationally competitive 2017 Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. This privately funded grant, the largest of its kind, pays up to $40,000 a year to community college students moving on to baccalaureate study. He awaits college acceptances.

Bagabila intends to major in either biomedical engineering or biochemistry. He got a head start in research with BMCC assistant professor Lauren Wickstrom, a computational biophysicist; they investigated the blood coagulation Factor-Xa via computer-based molecular dynamic simulation. He will present a poster at the BMCC Annual Research Symposium in May.

His long-range vision is to combine Western technology with traditional African medicine. "In Africa, 80 percent of the time we are treated with plants and herbs, which are cheaper and more convenient. I would like to research the mechanisms of the active molecules in the plants and herbs to convert them into medicine." Manufacturing those medicines in Africa would create jobs and keep costs affordable, he reasons.

And then Bagabila gets to his dream. "After a Ph.D., I would like to create the first research university in Burkina Faso. Although there is a national university, it does not conduct research. I want to provide higher education and research facilities to ambitious students who are passionate about science and research, but do not have the opportunity to continue their studies in the United States, perhaps as a partnership between schools in the U.S. and Burkina Faso.

"Coming to the U.S., I did not have a clear path to success, but I now wish to leave a trail behind me for students who want to take big steps toward their success."