Graduate Student Spotlight: Paul Akpejeluh
Paul Akpejeluh grew up in Benin City, Edo State, a town with about 1.5 million people in the Southern part of Nigeria. He had his undergraduate degree in neighboring Delta State. Having lived in several States in Nigeria before moving to Lincoln for graduate studies, he relishes the striking differences between Nigeria’s climate and the United States’, adding that the social and economic outlook of both countries are poles apart. These and more are the reasons he finds UNL interesting. Read all about it in this interview.
What are you studying, what’s your research about, and how far have you gone?
I’m a master’s student at the School of Natural Resources, UNL, and my specialization is Applied Ecology. I’m currently in my final phase of data collection and thesis writing. My research looks at bomas in Northern Kenya, which are basically abandoned pastoralist settlements made from acacia cut trees for corralling livestock. When the pastoralists relocate or abandon the bomas for greener pastures or in search of water, these bomas leave ecological imprints over time which have impacts on vegetation species, diversity, and richness in the landscape.
So, basically my research uses remotely-sensed (both satellite and UAV), and field data to explore the relationships among grazing livestock, vegetation changes, and climate (precipitation) at multiple spatial (boma, landscape and regional), and temporal (monthly, seasonal and interannual) scales.
I’m sure that’s what informed your trip to Kenya. What was it really about?
I went for data collection on the eastern part of Lake Turkana. I was gathering both field data from vegetation sampling and surveys, as well as remotely sensed data from drones. I was there for a couple of months last summer where we gathered dry season vegetation and aerial imagery data; and I’m revisiting this Spring to gather wet season data as well. The region is known for its bimodal rainfall pattern, so understanding the seasonal variability is of importance to my research.
What informed your interest in studying bomas?
I got interested in ecology after having a broad background in environmental science from Nigeria. The opportunity to do a program that aims at addressing environmental and ecological issues was an icing on the cake for me. I had developed an interest in coding after my undergraduate days, and the Applied Ecology program allows for a good blend of both worlds.
How did you get to know about this program at UNL?
I got informed about the graduate opening by a friend while I was searching for programs in the U.S. The requirements aligned with my interest, so I gave it a shot, and here I am today.
What was the greatest challenge you faced here and how did you overcome it?
Relocating to a foreign country for graduate school is not the easiest thing to do; it came with some challenges. The hurdles ranged from unexpected ones like language and accent barrier, to more nuanced ones like transitioning to a new learning system.I think the most challenging thing for me was to reach a milestone in my research. This culminated in taking that first field work trip to Kenya.
How would you compare the program here at UNL to studying back in your home country?
Studying here is quite different from Nigeria in many aspects. One thing I appreciate is how approachable the professors are. Having Dr. Dan Uden as my advisor exemplifies that. Beyond being approachable, he’s supportive and always available to help. Though busy, he creates time to attend to every difficulty brought to him, even challenges like debugging and reviewing code scripts for his students.
It took a little bit of mental adjustment to adapt to the learning system, especially as I arrived in the Covid period where most classes were done online.
Have you had mentors? If yes, who are they?
I have met some amazing people I will gladly call mentors because they have helped shape me. Mr. Isaac Taiye Imasuen was my high school teacher who made me take an interest in sciences. Then, there is Dr. Akinyemi Ogunkeyede who instilled the desire for research and attending graduate school.
My advisor is one whose impact has been major – I already mentioned that. Other members of my committee have been instrumental in my research, too. They include Dr. Matthew Douglass and Dr. Brian Wardlow.
Time would fail me to mention people who have indirectly influenced my career choice so far; I’m grateful to have all of them in my life.
What words do you have for aspiring students of UNL?
Lincoln is a cool city to live in. The people are amazing and welcoming; the cost of living is decent. So, for me, it’s a ‘thumbs up’ for anyone thinking about Lincoln. I have seen and met some amazing faculties here who are renowned for their research and work not just in the US but internationally and they turn out to be some of the most amazing people you can meet.
What do you miss about home?
I mostly miss the food; Lincoln is not so big on African restaurants. I also miss the people, as there is a sense of community you get at home, and although you can still find that here, it’s just not the same.
What do you plan to do after school?
At the moment, my next plan, after this, is to go for a PhD in a similar program or something related to geospatial data science as I really got to develop some interest in it lately; and I see huge connections with my current program.
If you weren’t into this program, what would you be doing?
Not sure what I’d be doing right now if I wasn’t here, but I would have loved to be doing something related to geospatial data science.
I know you’re good at soccer, what other ways do you relax?
Yeah, one of my favorite ways to relax and have fun is soccer and I try to play every weekend just to get out of the busy rhythm of grad schoolwork. It’s been super helpful for both physical and mental health. I also enjoy a variety of different genres of music, and I do photography as well. I try to explore cool locations all the time for this.
— Jerome Okojokwu-Idu, SNR Graduate Student