Episode 3: Onyeka Udoye

Camryn Billett hosts NCAS-M’s podcast Students, Scientists, and Stakeholders. She is a senior communications major and computer science minor at Howard University. Billett participated in NCAS-M’s Experiential Training Summer Program for Rising Sophomores (ETSP) in 2019. Currently, she is working with NCAS-M as a communications fellow. 

Podcast host Camryn Billett interviews her guest Onyeka Udoye about Udoye’s experience in the NCAS-M summer internship program in 2019. Onyeka Udoye is majoring in biological sciences and minoring in law and justice at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She plans to attend medical school after earning her undergraduate degree in 2022. Udoye appreciates NCAS-M’s focus on providing research training opportunities to underrepresented communities and students new to the scientific research field. Through her NCAS-M internship, Udoye learned about the research process, developed coding skills, and presented her research findings at several symposiums. 


Camryn Billett: [00:00:00] Welcome to NCAS-M Students, Scientists, and Stakeholders where you will learn all there is to know about NCAS-M. I am your host and current NCAS-M fellow Camryn Billett. We are a student-led podcast designed to help you explore all educational and career opportunities available here at NOAA through NCAS-M. On this podcast, you’ll hear stories and conversations from students about their current and past experiences working here. You’ll get to understand our mission and hopefully come join us. Today we are joined by Onyeka Udoye who is a current student at University of Maryland Baltimore County in Baltimore, Maryland. Onyeka and I spent about the entire summer during our NCAS-M summer internship program at Howard University’s Beltsville campus. Onyeka, welcome.  

Onyeka Udoye: [00:01:02] Thank you. Happy to be here today.  

Camryn Billett: [00:01:05] How are you doing today?  

Onyeka Udoye: [00:01:07] I’m doing okay. Um, just juggling classes, meetings, and this podcast, of course.  

Camryn Billett: [00:01:14] Well, we thank you for being on.  

Onyeka Udoye: [00:01:16] You’re very welcome.  

Camryn Billett: [00:01:18] Um, so Onyeka, we spent the summer together at the Beltsville campus, and the Beltsville campus is of Howard University. And the Beltsville campus at Howard University is really, um, a research campus that has a bunch of scientists and labs. 

And, um, we spent the summer together during our internship program. And just before we get started, I just wanted to let the audience know what your major was at the time and currently is.  

Onyeka Udoye: [00:01:49] Okay, at the time it was summer 2019, I believe, and my major was biological sciences on the pre-medical track, and it has stayed the same. I just added a minor in law and justice to it. So I’m still a bio-major, um, since then.  

Camryn Billett: [00:02:07] So how did you like first hear about NOAA?  

Onyeka Udoye: [00:02:11] I had heard about it from one of the faculty at my school, um, Dr. Belie demos, and he, he just told me about it. It was like there was an opening at Howard under the, depending on the kind of research that they were doing. 

And I had spoken about how I was interested in research before, so he sent me the application and put me in touch with a couple other faculty. And yeah, I got the position after applying and sending out my resume.  

Camryn Billett: [00:02:40] So you mentioned that you enjoy research. Did your project have a lot of research to go along with it? 

Onyeka Udoye: [00:02:47] Yes. My project was focused on, it was a research project, but it focused on PM 2.5 particular matter 2.5 and like aerosols in specific neighborhoods. So, I looked at it in the Baltimore Washington area in comparison to places like Richmond, Virginia, or Alexandria, basically just comparing more polluted areas to less polluted areas and trying to come up with one, the reason why the discrepancy was there, and the second, um, question we tried to answer was if there was a trend and by trend, I mean, like in the past 10 years, have the pollution rates stayed the same? Have they increased? Have they gone down, or we see different rates in different areas?  

Camryn Billett: [00:03:32] And what is your, um, what did you conclude on your project?  

Onyeka Udoye: [00:03:37] We concluded that, um, pollution as a whole is decreasing in every area that we looked at, we were taking, uh, major cities. So, I said that I had, uh, looked at Baltimore and compared it to Richmond or Alexandria, but in every city that we looked at, pollution went down for sure in the last 10 years by a high rate, and secondly, we noticed that these areas are more polluted than those other places we’re looking at. For example, DC has the highest population rate compared to somewhere like Gaithersburg. 

And the reason we tried to come up with was, um, DC has a lot of major airports, so it’s always a lot of flights. It’s a lot busier than other cities that we looked at. So, we would just try to put two and two together as to why it would be that polluted. Um, things like how the city was planned, transportation in the area, people commuting with shared rides, a lot of all that stuff goes into how much pollutants they have in their air.  

Camryn Billett: [00:04:35] And would you say that you enjoyed this internship or didn’t enjoy it? Were you indifferent and it teach you like, maybe that you didn’t want to go in a specific field or area?  

Onyeka Udoye: [00:04:48] I would definitely say that I enjoyed it. and it also like set the stone for me in regard to research. That was actually the first research, internship or experience that I got, and I was able to have it as the experience, which allowed me to gain more. 

And I got exposed to coding a little bit. As a bio major, I never had to learn or practice that, but the internship had me, um, had to code to make up like graphs, and tables, charts like that. So, I definitely learned coding, which I did not expect or a little bit, and I also got to work under the guardianship, or excuse me, of like a lot of very professional and achieved faculty. So it was, it was definitely a good experience, and I’d recommend it as a starting stone to people interested in research, or just, even if you have started, try that could be another one to try it as well. It doesn’t have to be, you know, the first one.  

Camryn Billett: [00:05:48] You mentioned the coding. I actually enjoyed the coding so much that I changed my minor to computer science. And, um, I will say, like at this internship, you know, I was grateful to be working in my field, but I also was like, learning about other things, especially being around you guys, you, and Chinedu, and Henry, and Alex all day learning about your projects. 

So, I really enjoyed that aspect as well. Like not just, you know, working in my field and learning something on my, on my own, but also being immersed in kind of like you guys’ world and learn about your projects. Cause I, I remember that we used to sit down and like brief each other, at least, at least like once a week, right? 

Onyeka Udoye: [00:06:37] Yeah, I remember that. Um, I definitely would agree with you because, besides from just what I learned from working on my project by myself, when we would like present our projects to each other, I would also just get an insight to see the kind of research that’s being conducted, and that’s always informational. You can never, like, know too much when it comes to research like this.  

Camryn Billett: [00:06:58] And just going back to your projects with testing the pollution in the air and stuff like that, how did that, how would you say that had like tied in to NCAS-M’s mission? And if you need a reminder, NCAS-M’s mission is to increase the number of workforce-ready graduates from underrepresented communities in NOAA-related sciences.  

Onyeka Udoye: [00:07:19] I would say, well, for one I’m definitely, uh, underrepresented as a Black woman in STEM. You don’t see a lot of us around. So, part of the mission statement checks out. Also, we’re working on environmental science, you know, pollution. So, it, you know, checks that out as well. In addition, I know that NOAA is all about well, as of when I was working there, there was a lot of emphasis on undergraduate researchers; and they did just that, I would say, because applying to other places or other firms, organizations, I wasn’t really getting a lot of luck. I would hear like, oh, we want juniors or people who are about to graduate–people with experience–but NOAA really catered to the newbies. Cause I was out of my freshman year at the time, and I couldn’t get this kind of experience anywhere else. 

So, they took the freshmen and sophomores and research experience prior or not, you know, they made sure that there was room for everybody. So that way, they are catering to undergraduates, to the misrepresented, and we’re all in STEM.  

Camryn Billett: [00:08:22] I completely agree with you. I didn’t expect to land an internship like this after my freshman year, either. Honestly, I, I wasn’t having any luck either and I really just wanted an internship. I really just wanted to see if, if I, if I even liked physics, as much as I was saying. I just wanted to get my feet wet and get a little bit of experience to see what it’s like, because I always say this, but like, internships are just important to figure out what you like but knowing what you don’t like is just as important. 

And so, getting this opportunity and having a physics internship. And like I said, seeing that I ended up liking computer science so much, I changed it to my minor. I also saw that the research portion, like wasn’t necessarily for me, and I ended up changing my major. And so, for that internship, I am, I am grateful. 

I had another question about your projects really quickly. So again, we’re going back to the pollution and you seeing how pollution affects different cities in different areas. Did you have to communicate your research to people outside your field? Meaning, like, did you have to communicate your research to like, I want to say meteorologists so that they’d able to detect the weather better? Or even like somebody who’s like a communications major or specialty at the, um, at the internship, in order for them to be able to communicate that kind of information to the public? Or was your research strictly like for you, and then, I guess people could, could look it up later on if they were looking for something specific?  

Onyeka Udoye: [00:10:01] Um, to the best of my knowledge, it did not get like publicized. I don’t think that it did. I did present in a couple of symposiums. We presented it at Howard University. I presented at UMBC. I presented at UMD.  I presented at Johns Hopkins SIRF. 

So, I did present the research at a couple places and I probably had like scientists, and neurologists, and professors, and faculty in attendance who would listen in as I was presenting. But, like, officially, wouldn’t put it up to any, like TV station or article publishing or a newspaper. Um, the research that I did is not accessible. Like it’s not in a newspaper or something that you could read up on it; but I definitely have an, all of the faculty who I work with definitely have like files of it, poster presentations that I made to explain or share the research if there, if need be.  

Camryn Billett: [00:10:55] That, that makes sense. So, it sounds like, so when I did the internship, I really only presented at, um, at the, I wanna say, was it like a conference, would you say? 

Or, um, I don’t know how to describe it. I presented my research the same place that you presented it at Howard at the, on the last week of, of the internship, but I didn’t present it at all the other places that you presented at. Um, how was that experience?  

Onyeka Udoye: [00:11:28] It was, um, I’m trying to find the right word. I definitely would say that it was beneficial to me. So the one where we presented at the end, excuse me, was definitely, um, the first time presenting that, but the fact that the research was so relevant, I could just continue to tell people about it. And every time I would have a captivated audience was, it just showed me the extent of the work that I actually did because I felt like that was my first time researching. So, I didn’t know, like you would just use one research, and you could talk about it so much times. And I presented it like four or five times, and every single time I got that wow factor, or such an interest from my audience that, um, kind of had me excited. I felt like I was doing the research all over again, and they were all beneficial. 

I don’t know if I could say which one was the most beneficial from there. I got like, oh, you should come to this university for this summer program. We’re working on this. Or, you know, I would just get like business cards or invites to certain things that would be related to the research I was working on. So beneficial, I think that would be the best word to describe having that research and being able to go and present it at all the places that I did. 

Camryn Billett: [00:12:42] I would definitely agree with beneficial. My research, I still talk about my research to this day, even though I’m not a physics major. And just being in that science community, you know, you make a lot of connections. 

You meet a lot of people who are doing something that you could see yourself doing, and not only do you build connections, but you kind of build, um, I want to say people in your eyes who, who are kind of like mentors to you, and that’s what I liked about that one. Another thing I liked through this internship is you had an advisor, but you also had a mentor or somebody to show you the ropes, somebody to help you develop, um, educationally, professionally, um, and just, and just scientifically, just help you develop into the scientist that you are supposed to be. 

I want to ask you, so it sounds like you enjoyed this internship a lot, and you said the best word to describe your presentation experience has been beneficial. How has NOAA, but, NCAS-M specifically influenced, um, the rest of your academic career? Like, what did you do after NCAS-M? Did you do more internships? Did you, um, get more involved, um, academically? How has it influenced you from then moving forward?  

Onyeka Udoye: [00:14:06] Um, moving forward. I definitely continue to do research. I would say, um, as a pre-medical student, I dabbled in research because this is something that is advised or almost even necessary for medical school, and it never really stemmed from a personal interest place. 

Um, that being my first research experience, I got a couple more semesters in, and I currently don’t do any more research. Um, just because I’ve had my fill with it. And now I want to focus on things that I actually am interested in, but the project that I did after, um, was another environmental science. I worked with the faculty here at UMBC who was from the Department of Environmental Sciences and Geography, and we worked on, um, studying food webs in your home, but of arthropods. So, the insects that are in your house or in, you know, a modern day home just studying, like how did they get in there? How did they survive there? Cause we definitely don’t feed them. What kind of food webs have they established to keep them? Which ones are predators? Which ones are prey? What is their sustenance, things like that? And it kind of tied back into, um, my NCAS-M experience because that was also environmental science research. Even though I’m a biology major, I just somehow continue my research in environmental science. 

Camryn Billett: [00:15:31] That second project you’re working on sounds really cool, actually. I will say what I have loved so far about doing these interviews is I’ve, you know, I’ve interviewed some of the other interns that we worked with and mainly the ones that we met the last week, but I love hearing about what you guys are doing, because it’s just so, it’s so different–all of you guys. But it’s such necessary work and I’m really proud of, like what you guys are doing. Um, the research sounds extremely interesting. And it really, I feel like it gives the audience a good view of, you know, when you get to college, you make your major, and sometimes you think like there’s just one specific field for that major or for what you’re doing; but having this podcast and having you guys as guests on, you’re really giving our audience just a taste of what college has in store for you, and all the opportunities available here at NOAA and just through NOAA. 

Onyeka Udoye: [00:16:28] Definitely. Definitely. I would, I would recommend it even if you’re not interested in research. I would say still apply, you know, try to dabble like the way that you had experienced computer science and like, wait, I want to make this my minor. Like you wouldn’t, you don’t, you never know. And the way that I experienced, and I was like, maybe I don’t want to do this anymore. 

You know, you can never hurt yourself with too much experience, and this program is definitely designed to give you just that. The fact that it’s also welcoming to everyone–whatever year it is, whatever amount of experience that you have, wherever you’re located–because we had people from Jackson, Florida, we had people from like, um, I think they were from Tennessee. 

Uh, I forget, I think Tennessee.  

Camryn Billett: [00:17:09] Um, we had Jackson State. I remember meeting people from Jackson State. Um, but Tennessee was one of the places that one of those people came from. 

Onyeka Udoye: [00:17:16] And, UMBC, Howard, so it’s like everywhere. Um, whatever year, whatever major, there is room for you. So definitely, um, this is a program that you should apply to, or just, you know, look into, try to research, get into it, something like that. 

Camryn Billett: [00:17:32] Yeah, because we definitely have, you know, this, this podcast because I didn’t know everything that was offered at NOAA and especially to, but just the more I talk to people, and the more I interview people, and just see what their projects consisted of, set up and what they’re doing now, this is not something you can just, you know, find on the website quickly and easily. 

So, getting the word out and letting people know all there is to offer is just very important. Because I promise you, if you were looking for a place to start your professional career, to gain some research and experience, this is definitely the place for you. Because if you’re looking for a place, and you feel like you haven’t found a place that best fits you, you can stop looking because NCAS-M is it. But Onyeka, I want to thank you for your time. I want to thank you for telling our audience all that you’ve done and all that you’re continuing to do. Before we get out of here. I just want to know, do you have any post-grad plans?  

Onyeka Udoye: [00:18:37] My current post-graduation plan is medical school. Um, I plan to take my MCAT within the next month to start applying because I do graduate from UMBC next year. So, it is my current plan right now, and I’m just looking forward to it a little bit cause it’s also kind of scary territory, but yeah. 

Camryn Billett: [00:18:57] Scary territory, but we know that you’ve got this. We at NCAS-M just want to wish you the best of luck. We want to thank you for coming on to this podcast. And, um, we’re looking forward to you being in medical school, new doctor on the horizon. We love to see it.  

Onyeka Udoye: [00:19:13] Thank you. I appreciate it. And congratulations on becoming a fellow, um, good luck with the podcast moving forward as well.  

Camryn Billett: [00:19:20] Thank you so much. We hope you enjoyed today’s conversation and learned something new about NCAS-M. As always, there’s a place here for you, and we encourage you to apply at ncas-m.org. Again, that is ncas-m.org. We hope to see you soon. Thank you for tuning in to NCAS-M Students, Scientists, and Stakeholders. If you like today’s episode, please subscribe and share it with your friends.