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Student Profile: Going Global with Damilola Olatayo

Student Profile: Going Global with Damilola Olatayo

Gates Millenium Scholar Damilola Olatayo hopes to use her UT education as a springboard to doing global medicine.

damilola-webIt was always a good bet that Damilola Olatayo, now a senior neurobiology major in the College of Natural Sciences and a Gates Millennium Scholar, would end up in medicine or science.

Her mother is a registered nurse. Her father was an industrial engineer when the family lived in Nigeria. The Olatayos weren’t in the United States for more than a few years before her parents started a school, the Faith Health Training Institute, to train and certify nursing assistants and medication aides.

It wasn’t until eighth grade, however, that Olatayo’s vision of her professional future came into better focus. She spent the year in Nigeria, where she hadn’t been since she was six, when her family moved to Houston from outside Lagos.

It was in all respects an intense year. She was away from her parents, staying with extended family. She had to work incredibly hard to keep pace with her fellow students, who were veterans of an educational system that Olatayo remembers as far more rigorous than what she was getting in Houston. And in the midst of all that, she encountered two things that helped her realize what she wanted to become.

One was a book that her mother mailed to her. It was Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, the autobiography of the famed neurosurgeon.

“It made me decide that I wanted to be a surgeon,” said Olatayo. “He is such a remarkable man.”

The other formative encounter was with malaria, which she contracted while in Nigeria.

“I was so blessed because, though I was in a country where vast amounts people die from contracting the disease, my aunts and uncles were well off, and my parents were also able to send money, therefore I got treated and made a full recovery,” remembers Olatayo, “but I saw the disparities. I saw that money was often the difference between people living and dying. I saw that health is wealth. That experience made me want to be involved in global medicine.”

When Olatayo returned to the U.S. after that year, she got a move on. She finished high school in just two years, graduating when she was 15, in the process earning a full year of college credit from dual credit courses at a local college. She applied for, and won, a Gates Millennium Scholarship, which promised to cover the full cost of tuition, room, board, and books for up to five undergraduate years at any institution she chose. And she chose to come to The University of Texas at Austin.

“I am so glad I came here,” she says. “It took me a little while to feel that way. At first I wasn’t the kind of person who went to football games or that would say that I bleed burnt orange. But I’ve come around. Now I love this university.”

At the university, Olatayo has kept her eyes on the prize of a future in medicine. She’s volunteered and worked at hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics in Houston and Austin, and she’s gotten certified (at her parents’ school) as a nursing assistant and medication aide.

She’s also stepped out in the world as a leader. She’s founded one organization, devoted to mentoring and tutoring high school students, and joined and led a host of others, including the Friar Honor Society, the Diversity & Equity Student Advisory Council, the First Year Initiative, and the African Students Association.

“She is an incredible young lady,” says Dr. Soncia Reagins-Lilly, Dean of Students at The University of Texas at Austin. “She’s thoughtful, smart, driven, caring, courageous, everything you want in someone who’s going to be one of the leaders of her generation. It’s so refreshing, and reassuring, to know we are going to be in such creative and thoughtful hands.”

Dean Lilly, who has become a friend and mentor to Olatayo, says that one of the most rewarding aspects of knowing her is that, for all her amazing drive and talent, she’s also a very open person.

“If most people can juggle two or three things at a time, Lola can juggle seven or eight,” says Lilly, “When she gets up to 15 at a time, and comes into my office feeling overwhelmed, I have to remind her to take a step back, to find a balance. She listens, and she struggles forward. To watch her success as she grapples with the challenges of life has been a very rewarding experience for me, and it’s real. She’s real.”

Perhaps Olatayo’s most significant involvement on campus has been with the Gates Scholarship Program, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since last year she’s been the campus leader of the program, acting as a liaison between the Gates Foundation and the roughly 100 Gates Scholars on campus, and helping to run programs that enable the scholars to put into practice the program’s philosophy of service and leadership.

“I remember at one of our leadership conferences,” says Olatayo, “John Legend spoke. Here he was, this incredibly famous singer, who could have just focused on that, but instead he was talking to us about education. He talked about how wherever you were, whatever you do, you have to make sure to answer the call of the community. That really resonated with me, and I decided I wanted to bring that philosophy back to the university. I want people to say that I made a difference.”

This semester, Olatayo has been working with the Texas Exes to help make the case for a medical school in Austin. She did a press conference with state senator Kirk Watson, who’s been the most outspoken advocate of the medical school, and she’s been out talking to community groups about the benefits a medical school could bring.

“I get to speak as a student who would go,” she says. “I get to say, if you invest in us now, you’ll get a return on that investment. It seems to like everything we do, here at UT, has a level of excellence that comes with it. I know if we have a med school it will grow to become top tier.”

Since a medical school in Austin remains only a potentiality, Olatayo has applied to most of the top existing medical schools in the country. At the moment she has her hopes pinned on four schools: Harvard, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, and The University of Pennsylvania.

“Each one appeals to me for different reasons,” she says. “Harvard is Harvard. Columbia is in New York, which I love. Hopkins is where Ben Carson is. I have family in Philadelphia and Penn is also where Shannon Allport is. She was a mentor to me while she was here at UT, and she was truly the greatest mentor that anyone could ask for.”

Before she goes to medical school, though, Olatayo wants to do something she’s pretty much never done before. She wants to take a break. Sort of. She plans to do a medical missionary trip this summer. Then she wants to spend a year studying abroad—which will be funded by the Gates Scholarship—taking classes that have nothing to do with medicine. She has been looking into programs in Spain and Australia, and also the Semester at Sea program.

“I’ve been on this fast track for so long, I want to do something different,” she says.

After that, Olatayo plans to get a master’s degree in nursing, so that she’ll be qualified to take over her parents’ school, in case becoming a doctor doesn’t pan out.

“My mom wants me to have a back-up plan,” she says.

Then, if all goes according to plan, she’ll tackle medical school. Then the world.

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Comments 5

 
Guest - Shannon Allport on Friday, 02 November 2012 07:59

This is my mentee. I am so honored to be her mentor! Keep it up, Lola. Come to Philly soon!

This is my mentee. I am so honored to be her mentor! Keep it up, Lola. Come to Philly soon!
Guest - Chika Iguh on Thursday, 18 October 2012 17:20

This is my mentor. I am so honored to be her mentee. Great things are upon this young lady.

This is my mentor. I am so honored to be her mentee. Great things are upon this young lady.
Guest - Thomas Raybon on Sunday, 04 November 2012 20:49

Excellent story, and truly an inspiration to young African American females that will travel in her footprints. My daughter is a senior in high school, and plans to enroll at UTAustin next fall. She wants to be a medical doctor specializing as an anesthesiologist. I would like to talk to you. I want to know if you would be interested in being a mentor to my daughter. Please contact me in my e-mail.

Excellent story, and truly an inspiration to young African American females that will travel in her footprints. My daughter is a senior in high school, and plans to enroll at UTAustin next fall. She wants to be a medical doctor specializing as an anesthesiologist. I would like to talk to you. I want to know if you would be interested in being a mentor to my daughter. Please contact me in my e-mail.
Guest - Da'Marcus Baymon on Tuesday, 16 October 2012 12:30

Simply, Amazing! I feel honored to know you.

Simply, Amazing! I feel honored to know you.
Guest - Please Read on Tuesday, 06 November 2012 12:41

I'M TIRED OF READING AND HEARING ABOUT HOW DAMILOLA IS A DEDICATED GATES SCHOLAR. YES, SHE'S VERY INVOLVED ON CAMPUS, BUT SHE IS NOOOOT INVOLVED IN THE GATES MILLENNIUM ORGANIZATION AT UT! SHE DOES NOT WORK WITH THE FRESHMEN AND SHE DOESN'T ATTEND THE GMSA MEETINGS OR VOLUNTEER. SHE IS ALL TALK AND THIS IS FRUSTRATING TO ME BECAUSE I KNOW SO MANY GATES SCHOLARS WHO ARE WAY MORE DEDICATED THAN SHE IS AND SHE'S THE ONE THAT IS GETTING ALL THE CREDIT. DAMILOLA IS UNRELIABLE. SHE HAS PROMISED GMSA MEMBERS THAT SHE WILL HELP WITH PROJECTS AND SHE NEVER DOES. CHECK THE GMSA FACEBOOK PAGE FOR YOURSELF AND LOOK AT ALL THE OTHER GATES SCHOLARS THAT ARE ACTUALLY DOING SOMETHING FOR THE GATES SCHOLARS ON CAMPUS. HERE'S THE LINK ->https://www.facebook.com/groups/138203536247631/members/

I'M TIRED OF READING AND HEARING ABOUT HOW DAMILOLA IS A DEDICATED GATES SCHOLAR. YES, SHE'S VERY INVOLVED ON CAMPUS, BUT SHE IS NOOOOT INVOLVED IN THE GATES MILLENNIUM ORGANIZATION AT UT! SHE DOES NOT WORK WITH THE FRESHMEN AND SHE DOESN'T ATTEND THE GMSA MEETINGS OR VOLUNTEER. SHE IS ALL TALK AND THIS IS FRUSTRATING TO ME BECAUSE I KNOW SO MANY GATES SCHOLARS WHO ARE WAY MORE DEDICATED THAN SHE IS AND SHE'S THE ONE THAT IS GETTING ALL THE CREDIT. DAMILOLA IS UNRELIABLE. SHE HAS PROMISED GMSA MEMBERS THAT SHE WILL HELP WITH PROJECTS AND SHE NEVER DOES. CHECK THE GMSA FACEBOOK PAGE FOR YOURSELF AND LOOK AT ALL THE OTHER GATES SCHOLARS THAT ARE ACTUALLY DOING SOMETHING FOR THE GATES SCHOLARS ON CAMPUS. HERE'S THE LINK ->https://www.facebook.com/groups/138203536247631/members/
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