Two of the first graduates of VCU Engineering’s chemical and life sciences engineering program, Julia Cain (B.S.’01) and Nicholas Cain (B.S. ’01), created the college’s first alumni-endowed scholarship in 2017 because they wanted to give back.
Giving back is something that chemical and life science engineering major Samuel Adu-Gyamfi, a rising senior who became the first recipient of the scholarship later that year, knows all about.
When he was a first-year student, he received a different scholarship at a new event billed as the Black Excellence Scholarship Ball. “I was fortunate enough to get the scholarship the first year,” he said. “It really helped me.”
He didn’t just say thank you and move on. Adu-Gyamfi then stepped up to continue the tradition of the ball and make it possible for others to receive scholarships by forming Black Excellence at VCU, a university-wide student organization that celebrates excellence and achievement among black students. He is currently president.
Stephen S. Fong, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering, said, “From the first time I met Samuel during his freshman year, he has consistently demonstrated a desire to have an impact on the lives around him. This includes using technical knowledge and skills for translational research and being actively involved in student organizations.”
Adu-Gyamfi, a musician who plays piano and electric bass, said he’s had an interest in chemistry and chemical engineering since high school, when he attended the Center for Engineering at Highland Springs High School in Henrico County.
He is pursuing minors in chemistry and applied mathematics in the College of Humanities and Sciences. After graduation, he plans to go to graduate school and is considering starting his own business related to chemical engineering.
Previously the secretary for VCU chapter of American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), Adu-Gyamfi will continue to serve as the group’s treasurer for a second year. He also volunteers for Engineering Ambassadors, leading prospective engineering students on tours.
Last year, he worked for D. Tyler McQuade, Ph.D., professor of chemical and life science engineering in the Medicines for All Institute. Because Adu-Gyamfi and his family are originally from Ghana, he said he was personally drawn to the institute’s mission to improve access to affordable, high-quality medicines around the world. “I do know firsthand what you’re talking about, making medicines more accessible,” Adu-Gyamfi said.
Currently, he is a fellow in the yearlong Dean’s Undergraduate Research Initiative (DURI) program, working in the lab of Mo Jiang, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering. The DURI program provides undergraduates a long-term, immersive research experience alongside faculty and graduate student mentors. Adu-Gyamfi is researching continuous flow chemistry systems as part of an effort to improve the process of manufacturing pharmaceuticals.
His mentor, Mingyao Mou, a Ph.D. student in chemical and life science engineering, said he was a quick study. “He learns very fast,” she said. “Now he’s handling his own project.”