AU Excellence: Michelle Emenonye

BY: MACKENZIE GALLOWAY

Meet Michelle Emenonye, one of AU’s newest scholars, a freshman from Jersey City, New Jersey. Michelle is a first-generation Nigerian American, who is very in touch with her heritage and culture.

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Michelle is part of a five-year program, in partnership with Columbia University, that allows her to earn degrees from Columbia and AU at the same time. She's chosen physics and biomedical engineering as her majors. Michelle will study at American for three years to complete her pre-requisite courses, and then matriculate on to Columbia for the next two years. Michelle hopes to pursue a career in Biomedical Engineering (fingers crossed).

In addition, Michelle is a dancer for AU’s African Dance team, Les Coeurs D’Afrique, which performs once or twice a month at several on- and off-campus events. Alongside dance, she enjoys singing, and has been apart of several choirs during her academic career.

MacKenzie Galloway: Being a first-generation Nigerian American in your family, what struggles have you faced, inside and outside of the household?

Michelle Emenonye: Inside and out, I generally struggled with my identity. I didn’t know whether to identify as African or Black. Outside of the household, I was bullied a lot in school for being “African” and people would call me various names and mock me. Inside specifically, I struggled more with learning to speak Igbo in the household and I never really picked up on the language either which, culturally speaking, is a bit of an upset to tradition. However, I do plan on learning Igbo whenever I have a chance!

MG: What aspects of Nigerian culture are most dear to your heart, and how do you showcase them?

ME: The music and the food are the aspects that I love the most about Nigerian culture. Back home, I would perform Igbo songs at my church and I typically join my mother in making dishes for events/occasions that we may attend. I’m learning how to make more dishes till this day and I actually want to open a restaurant that caters specifically Nigerian cuisine.

MG: How old were you when you began dancing and singing?

ME: I honestly don't know (laughs), but I know that I‘ve always loved doing both of them since I can remember. Though I do them recreationally, it never stopped me from participating in concert choir or joining dance teams whenever I could.

MG: When did you recognize your passion for physics, and what do you like most about it?

ME: Around the age of 16-17. It’s funny because I actually hated physics in the eighth grade. But when I took it again my junior year, I realized that physics explains all of the natural phenomena that occurs in this world, and that alone is what lured me in. I like that it forces me to think and it expands my own viewpoint on the world and how it works.

MG:  Being from New Jersey, and having experienced the Big Apple, how do you think that college in New York City will differ from college in Washington D.C.?

ME: Well for one, there’s far more things for one to do in NYC, partly because it's bigger than Washington D.C. However, D.C. is the nation’s capital so there’s a lot of opportunities here that you can’t get in NYC. In terms of college, both places are pretty expensive so no loss there (laughs), but New York has diversity like no other. I think being immersed in so many different cultures would be an amazing college experience. Both are also very transportation oriented, so I don't think it would be very different. But, NYC has a different feel to it than D.C. does.

MG: What are your plans after you receive your degree from Columbia?

ME: Hopefully it won’t be too difficult to find a job, but I do plan on working within six months of graduating. I plan on concentrating in cell and tissue engineering in efforts to contribute to research in that field. I also want to have moved out into my own apartment and start paying back to my parents as soon as possible since they’re putting so much into my education. And to succeed of course (which includes happiness)!