Harold Nii-Aponsah is a health sciences doctoral student from Accra, Ghana
Hometown: Accra, Ghana
Year: Expected graduation: 2024
Major: Health sciences Ph.D. program
What scholarships did you receive and why did you receive them? How has the financial support impacted your experience at NIU?
I gratefully received a graduate assistantship that came with a tuition waiver for my entire stay at NIU. This really helped make my studies and stay at the university easier.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you pursuing that as a major, or have you taken another path?
I have always wanted to be a dentist and a professor. I completed dental school, practiced as a dentist and decided to pursue the path of public health to be a professor. I finished my Master of Public Health degree and am currently working on my Ph.D. in health sciences. I would say life has a way of making what you want work for you—if you want it to. Keep believing and dreaming. Your dreams can take you to a world of endless possibilities.
What is your major (and/or minor) and why did you decide on this course of study?
Being a professor was a childhood dream of mine, but I didn’t know that the area of health sciences would be where I would realize this dream. I chose the Ph.D. in health sciences after my M.P.H. degree at NIU because it serves as a bridge between my clinical practice experience and public health. The program’s interdisciplinary design and flexible curriculum worked perfectly for me. I was looking for how to blend my clinical experiences with my love for public health, and this program offered a blend of both worlds. It was just a perfect fit for me.
What has been something you have found pleasantly surprising about your experience at NIU?
Contrary to the weird experiences I had heard about and was expecting in the United States, I was surprised by the hospitality I received from NIU as a whole. The fact that everyone was so interested in seeing you succeed was just mind-blowing. The experience is so soothing, heart-warming and surreal. Everyone is looking out for you, and it really feels like if you’re willing to give yourself a chance to learn something new, you’re certain to get the right people to support you. That thought alone is more than peaceful.
How have you connected with other students to study for classes, meet new people or form new friendships?
Like they say, your network is really your net worth. I have found great, friendly people throughout my stay at NIU. The environment is friendly, and it’s very easy to make friends if you are either introverted or shy. Not only have I made great friends from my cohorts in various classes, I found it super easy to get along and form great bonds with people in my classes. That has been the story of many other people at NIU as well.
Are you involved in any student organizations, mentoring programs or extra-curricular activities? If so, which ones? How have they added to your experience as a Huskie?
One of the things I have enjoyed about NIU is the bevy of opportunities to get involved. I have had the opportunity to build myself in a huge capacity as a Huskie through my entire stay at NIU. I have also worked with several great faculty and students. I served as secretary of the Student Health Organization, and I currently am the vice president of the Zeta Gamma chapter of the Phi Beta Delta Honor Society for international scholars. I also serve on the graduate student advisory committee and on various other committees and boards. I also serve as treasurer for Network of Nations, an organization that has shaped my stay in the United States. I encourage everyone to support this organization. It gave me a lot of support and assistance.
What NIU offices, departments or resources have helped you succeed? And how?
The professors and staff of the School of Health Studies have been superb in making sure their students succeed. They are passionate about your next few steps after your program, including internships and jobs opportunities. They are always willing to celebrate students when they succeed. As an international student, I was privileged to have found an organization on campus called Network of Nations. This group has helped thousands of students like me easily integrate into American culture, with the help of communal donations and support. The group organizes intercultural cafes every Friday, which makes international students feel at home. During the pandemic, the group went above and beyond to provide groceries and essentials to international students at no cost each week through the international market program. I have been more than privileged to be a part of the group and to serve as treasurer on their board.
Who has been one of your favorite instructors/professors and why? What course did they teach?
I have two professors I look up to, Dr. Jeanne Isabel and Dr. Kunal Patel. I worked for Dr. Patel as a graduate assistant. He is an amazing professor who mentored me during my master’s program. He is very respectful of students and challenged me to bring my best effort to every opportunity. Dr. Jeanne Isabel, the chair of the School of Health Studies, is simply an amazing mentor. She is my advisor and has been a great rock for me for at NIU. She looks out for students and cares about their well-being and success. I have had the privilege of serving with her on the boards of Network of Nations and Phi Beta Delta Honor Society, as well as other committees, and I must say she is as exceptional outside the classroom as she is inside. She is a gem to the School of Health Studies, the College of Health and Human Sciences and NIU in general.
How have you benefited by attending class regularly?
I could not have imagined finishing my master’s at NIU without regular class attendance and guidance from my professors. Going to class gives you the opportunity to ask questions while you’re thinking them, and to me that matters a lot. The COVID-19 pandemic made provisions for virtual classes; to be honest, any opportunity to have live participation benefitted me tremendously. I am the person who is always contributing or asking questions in class for clarity and that helps me a lot.
Where is your favorite spot on campus or in the community? Why are you drawn to it?
My favorite place to hang out on campus is the fourth floor of Founders Memorial Library. The aerial view of campus is so beautiful and refreshing.
What advice would you give to a student who is applying to colleges?
I would advise you to be open-minded in your search. Do not be afraid to look for students in your prospective schools and those in the same program as you. Do your best to speak with people who already go to that college about opportunities there. I was able to make a bold decision on NIU because of my conversations with two students I connected with on LinkedIn. I asked them questions about the school, and they were very helpful with advice and guidance. NIU is a place I call home, both academically and personally. Do not hesitate in making this your first choice of college at all.
Coming to college, what is something that you have had to learn to do differently?
Emigrating from a different country meant new adjustments amidst a very palpable cultural shock. College education is done slightly different in the United States than in my home country. The change was not only new but felt like an uphill climb. However, with determination, hard work and putting in your best effort, it is doable.
What do you do to relax or recharge?
I love listening to music, reading, playing tennis and hanging out with my friends. I am also very passionate about serving and volunteering in the community.
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