Ijeoma Akaogu is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Ghana-Legon, and is working on her thesis research that deals with mapping the genes that deal with Striga weed resistance in maize. As a 2016 Borlaug LEAP Fellow, she will have the opportunity to expand on her research and discover new breeding techniques as well as the practical application of those techniques. Ijeoma joins us from Nigeria where, as a child, she originally dreamed of becoming a doctor because she admired their ability to save lives. While her interest in science continued though high school, she decided to pursue agricultural rather than medical sciences, where she could still put her skills to work saving lives. Her Master’s research allowed her to identify maize hybrids that possessed genes for both drought tolerance and Striga resistance. Her work won her an award at the Third Africa-wide Women and Young Professionals in Science Competition in 2013 and those hybrids are currently being used in Mali, Ghana and Nigeria as a part of their plan to combat food insecurity. She hopes the research she is conducting as a part of her PhD thesis will continue to add to the fight against food insecurity in her home country of Nigeria and beyond.
After receiving a BS in Plant Science and Biotechnology at Imo State University and an MS in Plant Breeding at the University of Ibadan, both in Nigeria, Ijeoma went on to work as a researcher. She spent time at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), working on various plant breeding projects, including the general genetic improvement of crops liked maize, soybeans and cassava. She is currently on study leave from her position at NABDA while she works on her PhD. In addition to her studies, Ijeoma is excited about expanding her leadership knowledge and developing new strategies that can be used to make a greater impact in her field. She has already taken on a mentoring role with other women at NABDA, encouraging them to pursue their higher education goals, the completion of which directly lead to some of the women receiving promotions within the institute. Her approach to leadership is always to lead with a listening ear and an open mind and she intends to continue this with the help of the Borlaug LEAP fellowship.
Ijeoma looks forward to working with her US mentor Dr. Edward Buckler and to continuing her work CGIAR mentor Dr. Baffour Badu-Apraku. Dr. Buckler is a Research Geneticist at Cornell University, whose work deals with identifying and cataloging the genes for flowering, sugar and starch contents and row numbers in maize. He has extensive international experience and he will be working with Ijeoma on innovative plant breeding techniques she can use to compliment the more conventional ones she has been using. She will also be learning how analyze her molecular data using state of the art software programs. With Dr. Badu-Apraku, a Maize Breeder at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria, Ijeoma will have the opportunity to expound upon the work she started while working at the IITA as a part of her Master’s program. His work with Striga resistance in maize will compliment the research she is currently doing. He will give her assistance in the practical applications of her research and help her with the hands-on aspects of the work. Ijeoma is looking forward to completing her PhD by the end of 2017.