Nigel Gwini | Biochemistry ('14)

Nigel Gwini

Senior biochemistry major from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Perhaps the only thing more impressive than Nigel Gwini’s college career is the career he plans for himself after graduation.

Preparing to graduate with a biochemistry degree, a prestigious internship under his belt and medical-school acceptance in hand, Nigel plans to study and treat neglected tropical diseases, a group that includes dengue fever, African sleeping sickness, leprosy and rabies, primarily affecting low-income African, Asian and Latin American populations.

“Not many people are doing work in it, so that’s very important,” he says. “Most of [these diseases] are fatal or debilitating. They’ll decrease your quality of life significantly. They tend to lock people into cycles of poverty.”

Nigel didn’t come to ACU thinking he would tackle such an important, and often overlooked, specialty. In fact, he wasn’t planning on coming to ACU at all and once he came, he wasn’t planning to stay long.

That changed when he met Dr. Gregory Powell, ACU professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

“He’s a very intelligent guy, but very humble at the same time,” Nigel says. “He’s very patient. I didn’t have much lab experience coming in. He saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

Nigel worked for Powell during the summer after his freshman year. He found great friends who hosted him for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. And he became inspired to help those suffering with rare and deadly tropical diseases.

“When it comes time to peace out,” he said, “I want to feel like I did something.”

In the summer of 2013, Nigel was chosen to participate in a prestigious internship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s Jinming Gao Lab in Dallas, working with chemists and engineers to develop probes that can make cancerous cells glow to help surgeons ensure they remove the entirety of a tumor.

“There were two people with master’s degrees,” he said. “Everyone else had Ph.D.’s or M.D.’s – and me.”

That experience – working so heavily in research as an undergraduate – will give Nigel a unique set of skills in medical school and beyond. Not only will he know how to treat patients, he’ll have working knowledge of the research that goes into formulating the treatment.

Although he’s 10,000 miles from his home in Zimbabwe, ACU felt like the next best thing, he said.

“You start to interact with people below just the surface stuff, and you realize we’re the same people,” he said. “We’re one world.”

To help afford his education, Nigel works 20 hours a week and receives help from six scholarships, including the Tommy J. McCord Endowed Research Scholarship and the Lee Chemistry Endowed Scholarship.

“They were important,” he said. “I’m very grateful for them. Thank you for helping me out. I couldn’t have done it without the money you gave me. Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to give back.”

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