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Pratt Profile: Ugonna Ohiri

How did you get into engineering?

I don’t have the cliché story of being interested in taking apart and fixing computers at home from a young age. I mostly came to the field because I knew I was really good at math and had a strength in physics, and I wanted to find a field where I could use these skills I had learned in high school and college. And quite honestly, I knew that engineering can be very lucrative in the end.

How did you get to Duke?

I went to the University of Maryland – Baltimore County, which is a small school in Catonsville, Maryland. I was in a Meyerhoff Scholarship program for all five years, which is dedicated to underrepresented minorities and encourages them to pursue higher education. Throughout the program, I was required to get a summer internship, and because we had those summer internships at different locations, I was able to work at Duke one summer.

What are you involved with on campus?

I’m currently president of the Engineering Graduate Student Council, and I would love to be elected again next year. I’m also involved in the Bouchet Society and the Black Graduate Professional Association. And I’m a recruiter for the National Society of Black Engineers, where we go to regional and national conferences to recruit students to intern or to go into graduate school here at Duke.

What do you hope to do after graduation?

Most likely I’ll work in industry, but that decision will be location dependent. I want to work for a top company in circuit design, but if that doesn’t happen to work out, then I’m also very interested in going into academia.

What advice would you have for potential graduate students?

I think I was more prepared to apply for graduate school by spending an extra year in undergraduate school, which helped me figure out what specific field I wanted to go into and also helped me get a graduate fellowship from the National Science Foundation. I felt like I was one of the students who was more ready, thanks to the preparation from the Meyerhoff Program and my summer research experiences.

I would say to be open. What I mean is to expose yourself to different things that you thought you probably would never try. This place is just so unique because you have eight other graduate schools to engage with. So I encourage you to go and reach out to the law school, the medical school, the business school, the Nicholas School – they’re all really cool people. I think one thing that has helped me set myself apart from a lot of other graduate students is just getting myself involved in other graduate and professional schools. Getting out there and meeting new people and trying new things.