UNMASKING: Evan Akene
With a Passion to Succeed, and a Little Luck
Nigerian-born Student Aims for Rural Medicine
Evan Akene was born in Nigeria and, as fortune would have it, immigrated to the United States with his parents and four brothers when Akene was a boy of 12. His family won an immigration lottery that the U.S. State Department used to offer in certain countries. His family first settled in Marietta, Ga., before relocating to Austin, Texas, which he now considers home.
When he began to look at colleges, he found that "there was something charming about a little big school," he says of Texas Tech. "I also loved that the Health Sciences Center is right across the street." The proximity meant that Akene would find "lots of opportunities to get involved early."
Now a College of Arts & Sciences alumnus (BS Microbiology with Honors, TTU 2018), Akene is an A&S student ambassador who decided to pursue his master's in Healthcare Administration at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) before applying to med school.
In addition to his ambassador work for Arts & Sciences, Akene has volunteered at Lubbock's UMC Southwest Cancer Center, where he assisted nurses in the infusion lab and restocked medical carts; he also helped distribute warm blankets and snacks to patients who often felt tired, cold or weak.
Akene now holds a Clinical Shadowing Internship that allows him to follow doctors on their rounds in the specialties that most interest him: primary care—family medicine, pediatrics, and internal medicine.
"I want to run a primary care practice in a rural area," Akene says of his career goals. "Although they fascinate me, I'm not so drawn towards surgery or high specialization. What I want is long-term care to form a close relationship with my patients, to see the whole person, and conduct preventive medicine wherever I can."
He very much likes the idea of assisting at the birth of a child, then caring for that child's health through adulthood and, hopefully, assisting at the birth of the next generation.
But if Akene has one foot in the world of compassionate rural care, his other foot is firmly planted in the world of high-tech.
Akene is a telemedicine volunteer at the TTUHSC Department of Rural & Community Health, which actively serves Lubbock's outlying communities. His project there involves fitting ambulances with telemedicine equipment, which enables specialists to virtually tend to a patient's immediate emergency needs on the way to the hospital. It's also his role to gather intel on how well the equipment works for the ambulance crew.
He uses this information to generate data analysis that will help further develop and refine the service. Akene believes that the future of health care lies in the integration of computer technology and medical advancements. With that in mind, he also works as a student supervisor within TTU's Information Technology Division.
Believing that administrative knowledge and skills are essential to his future, Akene decided to get his master's in Healthcare Administration before going to med school. The things he is learning in this program will, he says, inform his approach to creative problem-solving.
Making a New Life
Akene knows opportunity when he sees it and feels a tremendous responsibility to succeed.
"I'm here by chance," he says. "I can't waste my opportunities."
In Nigeria, Akene's father, Richard, was a civil engineer who, just for fun, decided to take homemade passport photos of each family member. In those days, the United States held a diversity VISA lottery in certain countries for foreign nationals who hoped to immigrate to America.
When Akene's family won the VISA lottery, his father didn't believe it was real and put the notice aside—until the next one came.
The process of waiting, interviewing at the embassy, getting immunizations, and obtaining travel documents took almost a year. Then, they packed up and were on their way to Marietta, Ga., to start a new life from scratch.
Akene says his father's civil engineering degree and experience were not recognized in the U.S., so his dad took whatever jobs he could get, from delivering newspapers to performing custodial work. On the side, he studied for a network engineering certification. The family's new financial realities meant that his mother, Nina, went back to school to become first a Certified Nursing Assistant, then a Licensed Vocational Nurse, so that she, too, could work—something she'd never had to do in Nigeria.
Later, Akene's family moved to Austin, Texas, where they'd be closer to extended family already living there. Akene's father was then able to travel between the U.S. and Nigeria to keep money coming in from his Nigerian-based civil engineering business.
Finding the Time
Seeing the immense sacrifices his parents made has fueled Akene's determination to work hard and succeed. His older brother, Jephthah, already has graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in mechanical engineering. His younger brother, Jonathan, is working toward a bachelor's in fine arts. His two remaining brothers, Joel and Joshua, are just starting middle and high school, respectively, and love sports.
Scholarships—and the generosity of those who donate to scholarships—are a big part of Akene's success story.
As an Arts & Sciences undergraduate, Akene was a two-time recipient of the Landwer Biology Scholarship, a Pearson Family Scholarship and a College of Arts & Sciences Scholarship. He also was a member of the Honors College, and when he earned his BS in Microbiology in August 2018, it was with Honors from the Honors College.
"I've had to compromise on free time, forgetting about school breaks that other students may take for granted," he says. "But even with schoolwork, jobs and volunteer responsibilities, I often find some little quality time to hang out with friends, visit family, play basketball, or see movies."