Few class of 2018 graduates can boast such an array of experiences as Tilden Chima, ’18 B.S. biomedical engineering.He helped USC’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) win the organization’s coveted National Chapter of the Year Award as its academic excellence chair. His senior design project, a biofeedback device for the correction of improper posture was honored at the Viterbi Undergraduate Awards, coming in 3rd position for the 2018 Senior Design Expo. As a freshman, he was a research fellow in the National Institutes of Health funded Genomic Research Experience for Undergraduates, conducting addiction research at Keck USC. He followed that with an interdisciplinary project to build a better diagnostic tool for diabetic retinopathy. As an upperclassman, he was a consultant with the Trojan Consulting Group, USC’s official undergraduate consulting organization, giving business advice to corporate clients such as Chevron and Oakley.
But his appetite for learning through experience was cultivated before USC.
Chima was born in Washington D.C., but his fondest memories are from his childhood and teenage years, attending school first in Silver Spring, Maryland and later in Lagos, Nigeria.
Growing up under the strict tutelage of his parents, both pharmacists, was a blessing that would pay off in Chima’s life. “Our home in Maryland was like a 24-hour pharmacy consultation window for family and friends calling for medical advice,” Chima said. “My mom often joked that out of the three of us children we needed to choose who would be the orthopedic surgeon to take care of her bones and who would be the cardiothoracic surgeon to take care of her heart in old age.”
That instilled an early curiosity in Chima about biology and medicine, but it was the journey to Lagos and then Abuja in Nigeria that further opened up the world to him.
“My Jesuit high school in Abuja, Loyola Jesuit College, was not what one would expect of a boarding school in Africa. Preppy, polished, and highly accomplished adolescents from a variety of backgrounds lay in stark contrast to the uninformed, uneducated kids often portrayed in Western media. Among my high school graduating class, I have classmates who went to Harvard, MIT, Cornell, Johns Hopkins….you name it.”
But it was Chima’s parents who worked tirelessly to ensure the cultivation of the young student’s passions for science, even finding private tutors and looking for resources that would help him along on his journey.
“My mom had the habit of sitting my sister and I down and reading science tomes she had purchased from UK publishers (Coordination Group Publications and the Bond Assessment series were favorites of hers)…reading through them with us as if they were novels,” Chima said.
Chima ultimately finished his middle and high school education in boarding school at Loyola Jesuit College in flying colors.
“I was named Valedictorian for the Loyola Jesuit College Class of 2013 and won the Christian Service Award upon graduation for 6 years of consistent service in my school’s Jesuit Christian Service Program: a program designed to help less privileged children in the community by letting students like me, take on the role of teachers and mentors in these kids’ lives, under the supervision of faculty staff.” Chima said.
His impressive efforts in high school would prepare Chima for a fruitful academic and extracurricular career in college.
Making a mark at USC
Chima was offered admission from several top colleges, but what sold him on USC were the people and the flexibility of the biomedical engineering program – the only one in the country that offered four tracks: “a general track, an electrical engineering track, a mechanical engineering track and a biochemical engineering track.”
“Visiting the Facebook group of newly admitted students, I could feel the eagerness and the excitement of people wanting to go here,” said Chima.
He jumped right into that excitement, joining the National Society of Black Engineers, Trojan Health Connection, and many more clubs and organizations. At USC, he found mentors in faculty like Brittany Kay who teaches BME 101 and who, Chima remembered: “would respond to my emails even at 1 a.m.” Then there was Cristina Zavaleta, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, who taught Chima’s BME 425 and “who got me so excited about biomedical imaging!”
However, it is service of humanity that will be Chima’s major takeaway from his Trojan education.
“In all the leadership roles and extracurricular projects I took at USC, there was always this overarching question of how this will help or benefit society or the immediate community,” Chima said. “This was something my professors, the faculty I conducted research with, my mentors and even Dean Yortsos reinforced when they spoke to me.”
“This particular way of viewing my actions as being part of a greater mission of service to humanity has colored my worldview since high school and much further in college. I would be taking that with me as I move on to the workplace.”
Chima will now put his network, education and experiences to work in a position as a full-time associate solutions engineer at Oracle.
“I will be taking Oracle’s software products that have already been built – extend them with my coding skills and integrate them with other Oracle products thereby building a ‘solution’ that is tailored to our client’s specific needs,” Chima explained.
Chima sees it as a perfect fit, allowing him to blend his business consulting, sales and engineering skills into multinational projects.
If he ever needs advanced coding help, he can turn to his fellow Trojan and sister, Kourtney Chima, a junior in computer science and computer engineering, who organized this year’s Hack SC Jr’s Hackathon.
The Chima name will certainly resound at USC on May 11, 2018. Tilden Chima, who will be graduating with high honors is also one of 44 Grand Challenges Scholars. He will bear the flag of the graduating class of engineers at the 135th Commencement Ceremony.