“I just loved that course,” said Akano, now a sophomore.
Back in 8th Grade at Culver City Middle School, when current School Board Member Sue Robins was then teaching, Akano already had a flair for the scientific. “She was one of my students. She really liked to question tradition and the obvious. [She is a] smart young lady putting her ‘outside the box’ thinking to good use!”
Amid the microscopes and myriad pieces of lab equipment, Akano decided to switch her major from computer engineering to biochemistry — and she hasn’t looked back since.
“I do really love chemistry. I’m very interested in how the world works. I believe that’s what drives me to do chemistry,” she said. “And I’ve always really liked math and science. So I knew I should just embrace it.”
Embracing her passion has already proven to be rewarding.
Last spring, she received a scholarship from the American Chemical Society (ACS). She stood as Cal Poly’s lone representative in the 2015 scholarship class. The ACS awards scholarships upward of $5,000 to underrepresented students pursuing careers in chemistry or chemistry-related fields.
For Akano, a first-generation college student, the scholarship offers a bit of financial relief. It also gives her the opportunity to build connections in the field.
“I was so excited. I didn’t actually think that I was going to get it,” she said. “I thought that students who knew they wanted to become chemists right away would have an upper hand.”
Early on, Akano discovered that she had a knack for working in the lab and tackling the complex aspects of research.
“I’m getting hands-on opportunities, which is good,” she said.
She’s currently working with Gregory Scott, a chemistry professor, on a project that looks at defects in carbon nanotubes. She is also involved in research through the Kenneth N. Edwards Western Coatings Technology Center.
“Ifeh has been enthusiastic about starting research and has already helped the more senior students in the lab develop a better scheme for keeping track of and planning experiments on our different samples,” Scott said. “She’s begun to learn how to use several pieces of advanced instrumentation, including an atomic force microscope.”
This summer, Akano says she plans to pursue research opportunities thanks to the support of ACS, Cal Poly faculty, and a sponsorship from biotechnology corporation Genentech.
This summer, Akano will participate in a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) internship at the University of Southern California.
“ACS has provided me with opportunities that I think will help me in the future,” she said.
– additional text from CalPoly