May 13, 2010 — Iberedem Ekure said he experienced "a bit of culture shock" when he arrived at the University of Virginia from Nigeria four years ago. The lifestyles were so different, and, raised by strict parents, he wasn't sure what to do with so much freedom.
Now he will graduate May 23 from U.Va.'s School of Engineering and Applied Science with a degree in electrical and computer engineering and minor in business. He used the unprecedented freedom he found to immerse himself in University life – especially peer mentoring, as both a mentor and a beneficiary.
Coaching from fellow students helped him prepare for the interview that has landed him a job with J.P. Morgan investment bank's risk management division in New York City.
His father's influence didn't hurt either. A retired banker, he introduced his son to investing when the boy was 13.
"Risk is an important part of financial systems, especially given what has been going on in the market," said Ekure, a member of the student group Get on the Street, established in fall 2007 to provide training, guidance and a network for talented minority students interested in pursuing business careers. One of the group's founders, 2008 graduate Debola Badejo, who is also Nigerian, was instrumental in helping him, Ekure said.
When he first arrived on Grounds, Ekure spent most of his time just studying. He was well-prepared for U.Va. academically, thanks to parents who emphasized the importance of education.
"They pushed academics and instilled a work ethic," said Ekure, who won the electrical and computer engineering department's William L. Everitt Student Award of Excellence.
The award is presented to two students who rank in the top 10 percent of their class and have demonstrated interest in communications and computers, along with professional interests and activities. Ekure is a member of the National Society of Black Engineers.
A Lawn resident this past year, he is quick to credit his fellow students with helping him choose courses and activities. He had a peer adviser in engineering and another through the Office of African-American Affairs Peer Advisor Program.
The OAAA's peer advisers assist black first-year and transfer students with transition to the University by providing "personalized, sensitive support and counseling," according to the website. The program offers a range of additional activities, from orientation to workshops and seminars to academic recognitions.
After Ekure's first semester, he knew he wanted to become a mentor, too, and help other students. He has been a peer adviser for the past three years, serving as a senior adviser this year.
"I am really big on mentoring," he said. "People helped me, so I wanted to help others, and see them help others."
Supportive engineering professors, too, are among his informal mentors, including John Lach, Steve Wilson and Ben Calhoun. Under their guidance, Ekure conducted research on electrical and computing projects. He also counts associate professor of economics Lee Coppock, who expressed interest in Africa, as a teacher who was friendly and encouraging. Ekure ended up inviting him to speak at a student-faculty dinner.
One of the first groups Ekure – whose friends call him "I.B." – joined was the Organization of African Students. He was president last year. That group has been like a family to him, he said.
When he asked the members about putting on a play, someone suggested Nigerian author Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart," a novel that describes the impact of European colonization on Ibo society in the late 19th century.
Ekure took on that project as well, adapting the story for the stage and directing and acting in the play, which was co-presented with the Paul Robeson Players. The drama was performed April 29 through May 1.
Kim Bassett, assistant dean of African-American Affairs, said she is most impressed with Ekure's humility. "While he often finds himself in the spotlight for his accomplishments, he doesn't seek it at all. ... He is just willing to help."
He helped by becoming coordinator of the "Raising the Bar" program, initiated by Peer Advisors in 2003, which offers weekly tutoring sessions to black first-year students. He also helped by being a mentor in the International Studies Office's Mentoring and International Exchange program.
His other contributions include serving for three years on the Student Council's Diversity Initiatives Committee and as the Engineering School's representative for the past two years. He also helped establish the African Studies Forum, a new student venture this year that presented bimonthly interdisciplinary lectures and discussions about Africa, past and present.