As a young girl growing up in Ondo State, Nigeria, Damilola E. Ologunagba dreamed of studying in America. She also wanted to earn her doctorate in physics by age 25.
On Friday evening, Ologunagba will be one of more than a dozen graduate students receiving Doctor of Philosophy degrees during the Florida A&M University Summer Commencement Ceremony that begins 6 p.m. at the Lawson Multipurpose Center. More than 440 graduating students are expected to receive degrees.
“Coming to America was always my dream,” said Ologunagba, who attended the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA) in Nigeria for four years before transferring to FAMU in 2016 to complete her bachelor’s in physics.
Established by the government of Nigeria in 1981 as part of an initiative to create universities that produce graduates with practical and as well theoretical knowledge of technologies, FUTA had signed an agreement with FAMU that allowed eligible and willing students to complete the final year of undergraduate studies at the Tallahassee campus before beginning graduate school.
“I wanted to pursue a doctoral degree in physics. When this opportunity came, I decided to take it,” said Ologunagba, who found that keeping up with her coursework was only part of the journey.
“It was very challenging, with a new environment. Settling down was very difficult for me,” she said.
A year after she arrived at FAMU, tragedy struck. In 2017, she lost her biggest supporter, her father, Gabriel Adeniran Ologunagba, who was very keen about education. He had earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and encouraged his daughters to pursue their academic studies.
“It made things very difficult and very challenging for my family,” Ologunagba, who said a series of events later led her to take a year off.
But she never thought of giving up and going back home.
“I had my mom and my sister rooting for me. It just wasn’t an option,” she said. Her mother, Mojirade Ologunagba, lives in Nigeria, while her sister, Opeyemi Ologunagba, is pursuing post graduate studies in Canada. “They supported me through prayer and words.”
Another big supporter was her husband, Olumide Abioye, whom she met at FAMU. A fellow FUTA alum, Abioye, then a master’s degree student, gave her a ride to campus on her first day. They started dating at the end of spring 2017 and married four years later. Abioye earned his Ph.D. in civil engineering from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering in 2019 and now works for Airbus, the European aerospace giant in Leesburg, Virginia.
Ologunagba started pursuing her Ph.D. in 2018. On campus, she bHenefitted from having faculty mentors such as Associate Professor Mario R. Encinosa, Professor Bidhan C. Saha and Assistant Professor Shyam P. Kattel, Ph.D., her adviser.
Ologunagba is Kattel’s first Ph.D. student, and they worked on projects about the computational design of materials for hydrogen generation and ammonia synthesis.
“We published four articles in prestigious peer-reviewed journals and three more articles are currently under review in various high-impact journals,” Kattel said.
Ologunagba said Kattel embraced her ambitious goals from the beginning.
“He was the best adviser anyone could have with the mentorship, encouraging me to put in the work. He was always very helpful. He always had an idea of what I can do,” she said. “I wanted to graduate in four years. Typically, a physics Ph.D. takes six years in America,” added Ologunagba, who accomplished her goal of earning her doctorate by age 25 thanks to Kattel. “He let me spread my wings and achieve my goals.”
The secret to her success is setting goals, hard work and finding professors for advice and mentorship. But that’s just the beginning. A strong interest in physics and self-confidence are mandatory.
“You have to continue working hard every day; you have to study a lot and you have to believe in yourself. Self-belief is very important,” said Ologunagba, who has job offers from Intel and Chevron to work as a data scientist. “If you are not passionate, it’s pretty difficult; because physics is quite abstract, if you are not interested when it gets tough you would just give up.”