Precious Onwuka

Precious Onwuka – Hawthorne, California

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY

When Precious Onwuka was a little girl in Lagos, Nigeria, her parents paid for her schooling. Other girls her age weren’t as lucky. She would see a friend in class one week, and then not the next — and later see the girl, her own age, working in the market. “It was so sad,” says Onwuka. “I knew when we were coming here that education was free. This was something, from first grade to twelfth grade, that I had to take advantage of.”

Now, Onwuka is at the College of Letters and Science at the University of California, Berkeley — undeclared, but considering a double-major in public health and psychology, with a pre-med emphasis. It’s been a whirlwind journey since her final high school class—especially since Onwuka took part in Berkeley’s Summer Bridge program. “I started three days after my high school graduation,” she says. “And that ended three days before [the fall semester] started.”

With her new lineup of fall classes came a sense of what it means to work hard, to struggle and sometimes fail and to put oneself out there to make connections in a school as large as Berkeley, with more than 30,000 undergraduate students. But certain experiences at the Bovard Scholars program helped her hone those skills.

You’re struggling with students who are just as smart as you. It’s all about effort. It’s how you carry yourself and what you want.”

“I don’t really speak first,” Onwuka explains. “[The Bovard Scholars program] was different for me — I had to talk, I had to make friends. My roommate was Caucasian, and normally I would have been nervous. I’d never had any white friends, in my bubble of Hispanic and Black friends. But people really engaged in conversation. There were so many stories coming out of everyone’s mouths — it motivated me.”

Likewise, Onwuka found herself taking on a new role as a student during the lectures that are also part of the Bovard Scholars program. Normally one to sit in the back and not ask questions, she pushed herself. “You have to speak up sometimes,” she says. “Toward the end, I got out of my bubble and said, Let me talk to the professor after class.”

It’s a skill that she’s taken with her to Berkeley. “Now that I’m in college, I’m learning how to study and how to make friends and to have study groups and put myself out there,” says Onwuka. The playing field, as it were, is different — more competitive, she feels. But she’s rising to the challenge.

“You’re struggling with students who are just as smart as you,” she says. For her, the difference lies in the other skills she brings to the table. “It’s all about effort. It’s how you carry yourself and what you want.”

To future scholars: “Don’t compare yourself to other people. Everybody brings something to the table.”