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UNIMED Ondo creating NextGenS with science scholarships -By John Akinduro

Dear youngster, you can choose to be a medical physicist who will be responsible for developing, designing and evaluating diagnostic equipment, CT scanners, X-rays, MRI scanners, single photon emission CT and everything that has to do with medical imaging or a biotechnologist who will be in charge of gene editing and 3D bioprinting, among others.

From time immemorial, there has been so much emphasis on the classic professions by parents, guardians, teachers and even career counsellors who attempt to shape young school leavers along the path of studying either law or medicine. To them, these professions guarantee quality of life, including financial security and job satisfaction, forgetting that ideas rule the world. From Galileo Galilei to Michael Faraday, Albert Einstein to Thomas Edison, humans have evolved from one generation to another with the aid of life-changing science-driven inventions such as penicillin, the telephone, light bulb, internal combustion engine and contraceptives, among others.

Remarkably, the University of Medical Sciences in Ondo City, Ondo State is purposely drawing the attention of the nation to the fact that we need more scientists now and in the future. UNIMED is leading the charge in this direction through its newly launched and forward-looking scholarship scheme to support science education. Though this is not unexpected from an institution that is not just the first specialised medical and health sciences university in Nigeria but the best of its kind, according to the National Universities Commission that ranked it as 3rd best among all specialised universities (technology, technical, agriculture, medical and health sciences universities), 19th overall best and 4th best state university in Nigeria in 2021. Fittingly, UNIMED is a torchbearer for several other medical and health sciences universities—both private and public—and the leadership of the institution embraces its role in this respect with a deep sense of responsibility.

According to the Vice-Chancellor of UNIMED, Professor Adesegun Fatusi, “the greatest advances in health and medical sciences are not along the lines of what we call the professionals rather the sciences that are behind the professional fields.” He cited COVID-19 as a case study of how these scientists were able to help reduce the global burden of the pandemic drastically. Not to take anything away from doctors and nurses who worked tirelessly across the globe to manage the infectious disease but without those medical devices such as ventilators and its accessories, glucose meters, flush syringes even face masks and respirators and Personal Protective Equipment and the game changer, the vaccines, we wouldn’t have conquered the scourge.

Come to think of it, without the COVID-19 vaccines, we would probably still be glued to the big TV news networks by now waiting for those depressing figures of millions of people who are dying every day around the world as a result of the coronavirus. On average, vaccine development takes about 10-15 years to accomplish but the game changer COVID-19 vaccines took just about one year to develop. These were the efforts of the scientists and we risk having a shortage of them in the future, if we do not encourage more young people to embrace this field and the fallout of that is better imagined. Clearly, this is what the UNIMED management wants us to understand.  As Fatusi emphasises, one major lesson from COVID-19 for Nigeria is the need to considerably strengthen and step up our efforts in scientific developments, if we would not continue to be at the mercy of other countries for vaccines and drugs in case of future pandemics.

To this end, the university has launched a scholarship programme, codenamed “NextGenS,” to support the education and nurturing of the next generation of innovation-minded young scientists. The institution has decided to offer a generous percentage discount on tuition for some science courses for prospective local and international students.

The university has reduced its school fees to N100,000 for every student who gains admission into UNIMED within the next three academic sessions (2022/23, 2023/24 and 2024/25) to study Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, selected biological courses, such as Animal & Environmental Biology, Plant Biology and Biotechnology, Environmental Management and Toxicology, and Food Science. The scholarship also covers core public health-related fields of Community Health Sciences, Environmental Health Sciences, and Nutrition and Dietetics. This scholarship means a 45% discount on these courses, regardless of the number of students that will eventually enrol for them; this is unprecedented. All students who gain admission into the university to study the above courses will be eligible for the tuition discount till they graduate but on the condition that their grades do not fall below second class lower.

Graduates with first class or 2nd class upper from UNIMED and any other recognised university will also receive a 50% discount for masters in medical physics, environmental physics, medicinal chemistry, analytical and environmental chemistry, molecular biology, health statistics and mathematical biology.

So tell every 15-year-olds to position themselves and be among the “NextGenS” by acquiring skills needed to solve problems, make sense of information, gather and evaluate evidence to make decisions that have some ubiquitous effect. If you are having issues grasping the whole idea, think of it as a way of encouraging STEM education in Nigeria and contributing to the body of knowledge and innovation globally.

To my young friend, picture yourself as part of the next generation of molecular biologists, leading research efforts to understand and address a range of health issues like Professor Roseangela Nwuba, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) of UNIMED, who is a specialist in cellular and molecular parasitology, or be inspired by the works of the Akure-born world-renowned computer scientist, Philip Emeagwali, who broke the world record for inventing the fastest computer. You can also be like Omowunmi Sadik, an associate professor of Chemistry at the State University of New York at Binghamton who was awarded four US patents for developing microelectrode biosensors for drug and bomb detection.

Dear youngster, you can choose to be a medical physicist who will be responsible for developing, designing and evaluating diagnostic equipment, CT scanners, X-rays, MRI scanners, single photon emission CT and everything that has to do with medical imaging or a biotechnologist who will be in charge of gene editing and 3D bioprinting, among others. These science fields are interrelated and highly rewarding whether you want to contribute to the amazing world of science by working in a corporation or an academic institution. Whichever you choose, UNIMED will be there to make you a star of the next generation of scientists—the “NextGenS” club.

Akinduro is Special Assistant on Media and Digital Communications to ex-Ondo Governor, Olusegun Mimiko

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