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USM Brothers Earn Fellowships to Prestigious MIT Program

Wed, 04/24/2024 - 09:48am | By: Van Arnold

Summer Research Program

Kaitochukwu Chukwuka

Kaitochukwu and Otitodilichukwu Chukwuka, twin brothers and undergraduate polymer science students at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), have been awarded fellowships to the prestigious MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP).

MSRP began in 1986 as an institutional effort to address the issue of underrepresentation of African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and Puerto Ricans in engineering and science in the United States. Today, the program’s goal is to increase the number of underrepresented minorities and underserved (e.g. low socio-economic background, first generation) students in the research enterprise.

Summer Research Program

Otitodilichukwu Chukwuka

Originally from Lagos, Nigeria, the Chukwuka brothers were encouraged by their parents to pursue an international experience when considering a college choice. USM’s renowned polymer program and esteemed Honors College proved decisive in their journey to Hattiesburg, Miss.

Both students work in the lab of Associate Professor Xiaodan Gu, who also serves as Director of the Center for Optoelectronic Materials and Devices Initiative at USM. They harbor high expectations for the rigorous two-month fellowship program.

“I will likely be working in a material science lab that focuses on organic electronics, which is close to what we do here at the Gu lab, but with more bioengineering applications. Something I’d really like to get into,” said Kaitochukwu, who was born three minutes ahead of his fraternal twin brother. “They say MIT MSRP in intensive, and I really look forward to learning more techniques for fabricating organic electronics and honing more research skills, while making connections for grad school and beyond.”

Added Otitodilichukwu: “At MIT, I look forward to developing my skills of scientific observation and inquiry. I want to learn how to identify problems and propose relevant solutions in a scientific way. Learning new characterization techniques and making connections with renowned scientists and fellow students at MIT are also main goals of mine for the summer, but most important to me is to learn the art of observation and scientific inquiry because I believe that is how discoveries are made.”

MSRP seeks to identify talented sophomores, juniors, and non-graduating seniors who might benefit from spending a summer on MIT’s campus in Cambridge, Mass., conducting research under the guidance of MIT faculty members, postdoctoral fellows, and advanced graduate students.

Noting their exceptional work ethic, Gu played a pivotal role in helping secure fellowships for the brothers.

“They are highly motivated, which makes it a great match for them,” said Gu. “Having collaborated with the MIT faculty for many years, I was aware they could host USM students. Without any hesitation, I recommended my students for the program, expecting them to perform to high standards. As faculty, it is crucial for us to create opportunities for students, and this fellowship is an excellent chance for both of them.”

When asked to describe the atmosphere of working in the same lab as his brother, Otitodilichukwu said, “Working with my twin is the advantage I have. We help motivate each other, as well as keep an eye out for each other, making sure we both get work done. We also ask each other lots of questions that stimulate both of us intellectually.”

Kaitochukwu concurred, noting: “It is really amazing. It’s like a friendly competition…we are both trying to be the best at what we do and so it’s much motivation for the other person. We correct each other and are there to help each other when we struggle.”