Ozioma Okonkwo, a native of Imo State, Nigeria, is one of many international graduate students who attend UAB. He is currently completing a year of internship in the Dementia Clinical Research program at Brown Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island. He is working on a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in Neuropsychology here at UAB. The internship is Ozioma’s final requirement for graduation.
Ozioma studies the process by which neuropathological alterations lead to cognitive impairment which, in turn, leads to restrictions in the ability to perform everyday activities, such as driving and financial management, among persons with mild cognitive impairment, the clinical prodrome for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. He is also interested in understanding the relationship between cardiovascular health and cognition among older adults.
Ozioma put a lot of thought into choosing UAB for his graduate studies. He explains, “When I first began considering a PhD in Clinical Psychology, specializing in Neuropsychology, my primary interest was in working with persons who had experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Dr. Tom Novack of the UAB Spain Rehabilitation Center is arguably the foremost TBI neuropsychologist in the country, and I wanted to have the opportunity to work with and learn from the best. In addition, UAB’s Medical/Clinical Psychology program provides opportunities for students to be mentored by faculty in departments as diverse as maternal and child health, neurology, epidemiology, biomedical engineering, nursing, physical medicine, rheumatology, ophthalmology, and biostatistics to mention a few. This multidisciplinary character of the program suited my personality and my vision of/approach to science.”
While at UAB, Ozioma considers his most rewarding experience to be the opportunity to collaborate on a diverse assortment of research projects, ranging from neurometabolic correlates of functional abilities in mild cognitive impairment to quality of life in stroke patients. His influences here at UAB have been numerous, adding, “It is difficult to identify any one person who had the greatest influence on me. A number of individuals influenced me in different ways. To name a few, they include (in alphabetical order) Drs Karlene Ball, James Banos, Paul Blanton, Ed Cook, Elizabeth Griffith, Randall Griffith, Celia Huston, Daniel Marson, Dan Marullo, Tom Novack, David Roth, Hal Thurstin, David Vance, and my esteemed graduate advisor, Virginia Wadley.” (A list of honors and awards Ozioma has received while at UAB is located at the end of this article.)
Motivation and support are key components of academic studies, especially in graduate school. Ozioma’s motivation comes from a desire to seek answers to those questions that are yet to be considered by other scientists, and to find novel ways of addressing those that have been asked. His wife, Renata, and son, Chidubem, have also been very supportive in his academic pursuits.
After his expected graduation in Summer 2009, Ozioma plans to continue refining his research and clinical interests in mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
Ozioma’s Advice to Other Graduate Students:
Be willing to share whatever knowledge you have with your peers. In the process, that knowledge grows exponentially. Do not shrink from asking “difficult” questions. They provide a unique platform for learning. Likewise, do not be deterred by “accusations” (implicit or explicit) of wanting to know too much. There is no such thing!
2008 Invited attendee, NIH/NIA-sponsored Advanced Psychometric Methods in Cognitive Aging Research workshop, University of California Davis, Davis CA.
2007 NIH/NINDS Exceptional Summer Student Award.
2007 NIH/NINDS summer intern, Human Cortical Physiology
2007 Dean’s award for Excellence in Research by a Graduate Student, UAB School of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
2007 Overall outstanding graduate student, UAB Department of Psychology.
2007 Outstanding graduate student, UAB Medical/Clinical Psychology program.
2006 UAB Center for Aging Research Scholarship.
2006 Merit Fellowship, UAB Medical/Clinical Psychology program.
2006 2nd place winner, research presentation, UAB Graduate Student
Research Day competition (Social and Behavioral Sciences).
2006 Runner-up, Samuel B. Barker Award for Excellence in
Research by a Graduate Student, UAB Department of Medicine Trainee Research Symposium.
2004 1st place winner, poster competition, UAB Center for Aging Conference (Social and Behavioral Sciences).
“Accuracy of self-report of functional abilities in mild cognitive impairment: Development and validation of the MILES Self-Report Questionnaire.” Principal investigator. UAB Center for Aging. 2006 – 2007.
“Impaired awareness of functional deficits in mild cognitive impairment: Relation to cognitive variables and mood.” Principal investigator. Alzheimer’s of Central Alabama. 2005 – 2006.
“Everyday functional performance in mild cognitive impairment.” Co-investigator (PIs: K. K. Ball & V. G. Wadley). National Institute on Aging. 2004 – 2009.