furstaward_2016This year’s 22nd annual Arthur Furst Undergraduate Scholarship was awarded to Kelechi Nwachuku, a junior at the University of San Francisco, majoring in Biology with a concentration in Bio Chemistry.

Kelechi was deeply honored to be the recipient of the Arthur Furst Scholarship, and his undeniable humility and genuineness poured out of him when he spoke about his gratitude with such passion. What initially struck Kelechi about Dr. Arthur Furst was the astounding amount of research and articles Dr. Furst published, how much time he devoted to his passion, and the incredible work ethic he poured into them. “I was talking to Dr. Furst’s kids, and they were sharing with me about how much he enjoyed his work. I think it’s so beautiful to see someone who is so immersed into such greatness and contributing to society. If I could have anything Dr. Furst had, I would want his drive—with a drive like that change can really happen,” said Kelechi.

One word that captures this young man’s work ethic both in the research lab, and outside in his personal life would be “driven”—the same word, Nicholas Alvarado Program Manager at UCSF and San Francisco General Hospital used when he recommended Kelechi as a candidate for the Arthur Furst scholarship.

Kelechi strives to bring his personal best wherever he finds himself, and has continually proven to overcome any obstacles and challenges that have come his way. He grew up in a Nigerian immigrant household in East Los Angeles where gang and gun violence was prominent, but his parents upheld a strict upbringing. “Looking back, I am so thankful my parents gave me a strict upbringing in that environment making sure I was home by a certain time and studying, or else I would be on the streets by now,” said Kelechi. This young man shared that even in college he didn’t start off perfectly, but through perseverance and the encouragement of his family and friends, including his brother who is also in medicine encouraging him not to give up, he excelled. “My first chemistry test in college, I got an F. I was ready to throw in the towel and quit, but one of my close friends said, ‘stay in it, I believe in you, you just need to adjust your study habits’ and that’s what I did.” Kelechi really began to take off his sophomore year, and he credits that to getting closer in his relationship with God, and continues to give God the glory to where he is now.

“One of my favorite verses is Hebrews 11:6, because it reminds me that if I am diligent in what I do, and if I have faith in God, then nothing is impossible. I wouldn’t be anywhere I am today without God.”

As a child, Kelechi remembers pondering about an atom, and the concept of an atom blew his mind —“the very fact that the foundation of all life is so very small fascinated me,” said Kelechi. That interest has led Kelechi to where he is now, working in the labs at USF doing research. “Now I am in the labs weekly where I do computational theory studying bio fuels that can replace fossil fuels. With this research, less green house gasses are produced which deplete the Earth’s ozone layer causing lung cancer, and making humanity more susceptible to developing skin cancer. I am also researching super alkaline materials which can serve as efficient batteries.” Kelechi’s determination and passion has also led him to have the opportunity to do work under one of the most prominent researchers in the field of oncology with Dr. Frank Meyskens at UC Irvine’s Cancer Research Institute, where he learned and utilized major techniques of molecular and genomic biology in researching again melanoma.

Kelechi’s hope is that he will continue to be in a place daily where he has the chance to heal people, and help them go through what they are going through. “ In whatever I do, I want to do that for those I come into contact with and being able to do that through research and medicine.” From his personal experience of his friend and aunt being diagnosed with cancer, Kelechi has been able to understand the pain that comes with the process. “Not only are the cancer patients affected, but all their family members are effected by it, so sickness can really bring down the lives of many people.” His passion for cancer’s eradication currently landed him in the Physical Chemical Laboratory in USF. His future plans including becoming a physician, and through his practice, he wants to contribute to alleviating the pain that is brought on by cancer and sickness.

Apart from his interest in science and medicine, Kelechi is obviously a very well rounded young man who loves playing basketball, volunteering and also serves as the President of Brother Connection, a club at USF—a male branch of the Black Student Union dedicated to being “our brother’s keeper” meeting bi-weekly to discourse on societal issues that impact their ethnic groups and doing community service to serve.

Kelechi also loves going to church, and shared, “God is the biggest part of my life. I have a really strong church family and I love bringing my friends along with me as well.” When asked if there was anything he would want to share with people, he shared something profoundly personal. Ever since Kelechi was a child, his dad always imparted one particular verse on him: Proverbs 22:29. It says, “ Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men.” (NKJV) “My dad would call me everyday and say that verse to me. It really resonated and stuck in my head. My friends would be confused by how much I would work, and I don’t even understand it sometimes myself. This verse reminds me that being diligent and working hard has landed me in front of people like Dr. Arthur Furst’s family, and in researching for USF in positions where I can stand before people who are prominent, and not evil people.”

As for his future dreams, Kelechi would like to become a doctor who is passionate, loving and effective in what he does in healing the sick. He would like to build connections between patients and himself, and help them get through what they are going through. “ I want to contribute to the eradication of cancer through effective research, that’s definitely one of my dreams; and a wife and kids, and making it to heaven!”