Environmental health dual-degree student Akudo Ejelonu, MES’18, MPH’18, says working on the Lipman Family Prize is a way to improve herself, the Penn community, and the world through the work of the honorees.

Akudo Ejelonu was not selected as a Lipman Fellow the first time she applied in 2015. But, she says of the experience, “Things happen for a reason.”

In May 2016, she traveled to Rwanda to do a water-sanitation project with the Engineering school. On her flight were Lipman Fellows on their way to Uganda for their Soccer Without Borders site visit. She struck up a conversation with a Fellow, who introduced her to Umi Howard, Director of the Lipman Family Prize.

Umi helped Akudo to see the Prize from a different angle, the humanistic one, which inspired her to apply again. This time, she was selected.

“One of the reasons I applied was the mission and the purpose of the Prize. I’ve done grant writing work before, and I think it’s really powerful to be able to provide grants for communities. Unrestricted funds really allow them to use the money in a way that suits their constituents,” she says.

Right: Laura E. Stachel, Executive Director of We Care Solar; Jordan D'Olier, Lipman Fellow; Akudo Ejelonu, Lipman Fellow; Jason Han, Lipman Fellow.
Akudo Ejelonu poses with one of 2017 Lipman honoree We Care Solar’s solar suitcases. Left to Right: Laura E. Stachel, Executive Director of We Care Solar; Jordan D’Olier, Lipman Fellow; Akudo Ejelonu, Lipman Fellow; Jason Han, Lipman Fellow.

Connecting Across Penn’s Campus

Akudo also appreciated the fellowship program as an opportunity to connect with other students across campus. As a student in the dual-degree Master of Public Health and Master of Environmental Studies program, she benefits from meeting people in the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Medicine. Her work as a Fellow took that to the next level.

“I found that I could be more intentional about building a community. Really working together with the other Fellows was very powerful. And there were also opportunities to connect with Wharton in a meaningful way,” she says.

The Lipman Fellowship Program also gave Akudo the chance to learn some surprising new leadership skills. “We did a workshop in emotional intelligence, and that’s an area of leadership that we don’t really talk about,” she says. “I really had to do a self-reflection on how I receive information and how I perceive the world. It was important to me to learn how to engage myself not only as a leader, but also as a good listener.”

Being a Lipman Fellow fulfilled her desire to push herself as a graduate student, not just in an academic sense but also in terms of her leadership abilities. She found the 360-degree approach to feedback that the fellowship program takes to be particularly instructive.

“It was amazing to see how others perceived you, through your work and personality,” Akudo says. “You can see how your leadership style has evolved throughout the process. There were a lot of things I didn’t see in myself that others did. I learned how I can step up and step back.”

Akudo describes her time as a Lipman Fellow as the highlight of her academic year. “Every weekly meeting at 7:45, I was very excited because I knew I was doing something bigger than myself that connects to the Penn community and global community,” she says.

She’s quick to warn those who may be interested in the program that its purpose is not to boost your resume. “This fellowship is not focused on how to boost your resume. It’s how to improve your character as a person, which is key whether you decide to continue in this field. It’s really for folks who want to go through some level of self-evaluation while also making a strong impact in the communities that we live in.”

Posted: April 18, 2017

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