Growing up in Enugu, Nigeria, located in the country’s southeastern region, Chiamaka Wendy Azih was accustomed to being surrounded by family and friends.
Thus, when she arrived in the United States for the first time four years ago, she soon felt comfortable in her new home in South Carolina.
Azih says the friendly, family-like environment at Claflin University, led to her swift adjustment despite being thousands of miles from home. Azih will be among the candidates who will receive degrees during Claflin's historic Sesquicentennial Commencement on Saturday, May 11, at 11 a.m. in the South Atlantic Conference Seventh-day Adventist Convention Center, 514 Neeses Highway, Orangeburg.
Most surprising, was the weather, she recalled when thinking about her initial impressions of Orangeburg.
“When I left home, it was so hot,” she said. “When I arrived here in July 2015, it was summer and in the 90s, but I felt really cold.”
Azih came to Claflin based on recommendations from friends who either attended the university or heard about its programs.
“I wanted to get a high-quality education and heard that Claflin had excellent academic programs and courses in leadership,” she said. “I came here with all these expectations and Claflin delivered.”
Growing up, Azih always enjoyed tinkering with all sorts of mechanical objects not often found in a young girl’s hands. Doing so was a creative outlet for her, says Azih.
“I enjoy taking things apart and putting them back together,” she said.
Azih’s curiosity led her to Claflin’s computer engineering program where she quickly immersed herself in courses such as Data Structures and Algorithm, Computer Organization and Architecture, and Digital Logic and Design. While such courses proved rigorous, Azih met the challenge, and will graduate with a 3.95 grade point average. At Claflin, Azih was a student in the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College and a four-year recipient of the Academic Excellence Award. She also served as vice president of the Claflin Chapter of the Association of Computing Machinery-Women.
She attributes her success to Claflin’s professors and the small, private university’s ideal teacher-student ratios.
“You get to talk to the professors one-on-one and that helps,” she said.
Azih was able to share her own leadership and training skills while working in 2016 for the Summer Engineering Experience for Kids in New Orleans and Washington, D.C. The program included mentoring elementary and high school students as they developed engineering projects. She was thrilled to see the students’ interest in science, technology and engineering grow as they created gliders, trebuchets, wind turbines and perfume.
Prior to beginning the program, many of the youngsters were unfamiliar with the role of an engineer or how to create such machinery and fragrances, said Azih.
“We wanted to see if we could make progress and help them feel like engineers.”
Azih was further buoyed by summer internships that provided real-world experiences and, in her case, employment upon graduation. During the summers of 2017 and 2018, Azih worked in Charlotte, N.C. for Bank of America where she conducted research on how global-position-system timing poses risks to financial institutions, and created a web user interface that detects access-related policy breaches by terminated or on-leave employees.
Although Azih was offered a position at Goldman Sachs, the global investment banking company, she will return to Bank of America in Charlotte due to its familiar environment and having friends in the city. Long-term goals include earning a master’s degree in business administration and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, she says.
Her ultimate plan is to one day return to her home in Nigeria to combine her academic and business training by starting her own business. Ironically, her path will closely follow that of her parents’. Her father runs an auto parts business in Enugu, and her mother is a business administration professor at a university.
A key component of her business, said Azih, will be working with young girls, who, like herself when growing up, enjoy taking things apart and putting them back together.
“You need to see their smiles when they see that they can create something.”