Kim Chidubeme Okafor ('14)
Pre-medicine, Health Bites volunteer
"Service learning projects allow you to help others with their health."
When you talk to Kimberly Okafor ('14), you can tell she's passionate about everything she does—especially her future goals as a doctor.
"I've always aspired to be a doctor and I saw how excited professional health students were about the Huber Learning Community. I love that it's such a small community and how the service-learning projects allow you to help others with their health."
Okafor's service project was volunteering for Health Bites, a collaboration between JMU's Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children under the Virginia Department of Health. The Health Bites website provides easy-to-understand nutrition information designed to inspire behavioral changes in families with babies and young children to achieve positive steps in nutrition, physical activity and obesity prevention. Okafor worked to make the website more user-friendly, finding stats to back up information on the site, editing videos and making sure content was easy to follow.
The Huber Learning Community allowed Okafor to advance her career goals. At an information session for Huber students, she saw a video for a program at the University of Louisville that sparked her interest. She says her friends asked her why she wanted to spend six weeks of her summer vacation doing all that academic work, but it turned out, according to Okafor, "I couldn't have spent the summer doing anything more important."
The summer medical and dental education program at the University of Louisville put together a small group of undergraduate students interested in going to medical or dental school. "There were only 79 other people," says Okafor. "The small group really allowed us to bond. We all had a strong desire to do well, and I made a lot of friends who could be future colleagues."
Okafor also says she never felt like she was in a classroom. "We shadowed doctors in the field and got to use the school's medical facilities. We had so much technology at our disposal."
Before experiencing the program at Louisville, Okafor was hesitant about becoming pre-med. But afterwards she was confident that she was headed on the right career path. "Sometimes rigor of the courses, the criteria, the med school loans stop so many people from becoming a doctor," she explains. "It can be overwhelming. But I try and remember why I'm going through this. I keep the bigger picture in mind. Other people are relying on me."
Okafor says that her JMU professors are also an inspiration. "All the faculty have high expectations and it's something else to live up to, but it's not stressful because they're encouraging. JMU is a large school, but it has small classes and professors are passionate and always willing to help. You can go to them for anything. I don't know where I'd be if I didn't have them to lean on."
Okafor is a co-chair of Students for Minority Outreach, a group that recruits minority students in becoming part of the JMU family. She is also an American Medical Student Association legislative representative. AMSA's goal is to foster interdisciplinary health care in rural areas and to make people aware of what each discipline does. Diabetes runs on both sides of Okafor's family, so she is dedicated to educate people on the types, prevention methods and common myths through AMSA's projects.
Okafor wants to one day become a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases. It will take a lot of school and a lot of work, but she says it never feels like work. "A JMU professor told me to make sure not to do things to enhance a med-school application, but to do things to enhance myself as a person."