Senior Spotlight: Victoria Chibuogu Nneji, Set on Making a Difference

Apr 01 2014 | By Melanie A. Farmer

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, but raised primarily in Durham, NC, Victoria Chibuogu Nneji, who immigrated to the U.S. at age five, credits her hard-working mother for instilling early on the value of education.

Victoria Chibuogu Nneji
Victoria Chibuogu Nneji

“We actually lived in a trailer park in rural South Carolina for some time but my mother never gave up on getting us into environments with greater educational resources,” recalls Nneji, 21. “Although I’m part of the first generation in my family to pursue higher education, my mother works so hard to ensure that I have everything I need to do well in school.” Along with her mother’s constant support, Nneji’s determination and intellect earned her admission junior year of high school to North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM)—a unique public boarding school that enables students of any socioeconomic background, like Nneji, an opportunity of a quality education.

Says Nneji, “The school’s motto is ‘accept the greater challenge,’ and that I did!”

Her childhood interest in math, science, and technology is something she continues to hone today as an applied mathematics major. After graduation, she hopes to make a difference in education, and is currently considering two job offers where she would be working on more innovative ways to make better use of technology in an educational setting.

“In whatever career I have, I aspire to do great things for the people I serve,” says Nneji. “I want to be in a position of solving problems and leading a team toward decisions that have positive returns.”

So far, she is right on track, having made major strides in the last four years toward her goal. She has conducted applied mathematics research, with the support of Professor Adam Sobel, at a Teachers College think tank, where she did quantitative analysis on how changes in financial aid could impact a student’s performance in community college, and how long it would take them to complete their associate’s degree. For a senior project, she worked on better understanding an algorithm developed by genomics researchers at Columba University Medical Center for the purpose of identifying genetic networks leading to psychological disorders. And, as a Kenneth Cole Fellow, Nneji got a chance to serve as a consultant for Northern Manhattan Improvement Corp. (NMIC) in Washington Heights. She and her team interviewed some 100 residents to learn more about their economic status since immigrating to the U.S.

They presented their findings to NMIC and Kenneth Cole for the community to supplement a pilot cleaning business started by women in NMIC’s domestic violence recovery group, EcoMundo, with a new one that will provide greater economic freedom and opportunity over the next few years.

“I was able to bring my math skills into this project by developing a coding system for us to capture the qualitative responses in a method that we could visually present the data effectively to stakeholders,” she says of that fellowship experience.

Nneji genuinely loves to problem solve; as she puts it, “that’s my thing,” and it also is what initially led her to pursue applied mathematics at the School. That, and a positive experience during Columbia Engineering Experience (CE2) invitational, where she had the opportunity to learn what it would be like to be an engineering student at Columbia.

At CE2, she began to recognize that “being in a city like New York at a global university like Columbia would provide me with an environment to stretch my reach and grow in my potential,” she says. She also credits CE2 for linking her to an unforgettable experience at Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA. During CE2, prospective students paid a visit to the Google site in New York and were introduced to scholarship opportunities. As a result, Nneji applied and ended up spending the summer before her freshman year in California as a Google computer apprentice. “CE2 literally changed my life,” she says.   

Columbia Engineering has helped Nneji not only become a better mathematician but also a more well rounded student overall.

“Whenever I meet someone new, regardless of whether the conversation is about something ‘techy’ or something ‘artsy,’ I don’t ever feel like I can’t contribute something valuable,” says Nneji.

When she’s not studying complex math, Nneji volunteers on community service projects related to public health and education. She also makes time to enjoy New York City, whether it’s taking in a Broadway show or going on a neighborhood food tour. “And, once the weather is warm,” she adds, “I’ll have fun bike riding along the Hudson greenway, from Dumbo to the Cloisters!”