University Of California, Davis: Students Win Strauss Scholarships For Public Service

Asolar-powered well in rural Nigeria and a free diabetes clinic in Sacramento are among the undergraduate public service projects selected for funding by the Donald A. Strauss Foundation in 2021. UC Davis juniors Chiduben Victor Nnaji and Rishi Sharma will each be awarded $15,000 to implement their projects in the coming year.

Creating a sustainable water source
Nnaji, a civil engineering student has designed a solar-powered water pump for the rural Amurri community of his homeland, Nigeria. The pump will tap into the local aquifer and deliver clean water via a system of storage tanks connected to taps. Nnaji’s plan also includes collaboration with regional leadership to ensure equitable access for the people of the region and education on sustainable water use.

Scarcity of potable water is a monumental issue that affects the daily lives of some 30,000 people in Amurri, Nnaji said. Residents — typically women and children — must walk more than 5 miles each way to fetch water from regional streams. They risk malnutrition and exposure to violence, and children suffer the long-term impacts of missing school. Ultimately, Nnaji said, he envisions building a network of similar water supplies across Nigeria with the support of charitable organizations such as Engineers Without Borders and solar companies.

Nnaji, who is minoring in construction engineering and management, has had internships with Level 10 Construction in Sunnyvale, California, and the Solano County Capital Projects Management Division.

A diabetes clinic for Oak Park
A closeup of Rishi Sharma
Rishi Sharma
Sharma, a biochemistry and molecular biology student, is creating a specialty diabetes clinic within the student-run Imani Clinic in Sacramento. The project manifests his dual passions for research and medical care for underserved communities.

Sharma said he has a strong interest in metabolic research. In the lab of John Albeck, he studies the various cellular signals and pathways that affect diabetes and cancer. He is also a remote data analytics intern at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, where his projects include building statistical models to analyze diabetes-related data sets.

Establishing a specialty endocrine clinic at Imani, where Sharma has been volunteering since summer 2020, is a natural fit. Diabetes disproportionately impacts socioeconomically disadvantaged communities like Oak Park, the one served by Imani. An active, award-winning volunteer, Sharma co-leads the clinic’s financial and grant committee and participates in youth outreach. Starting work on the endocrine clinic in November, he created a protocol and recruited endocrinologists from UC Davis to serve as the faculty preceptors. Student teams provide lifestyle and nutrition coaching for diabetics and pre-diabetics, and help patients apply for funding for expensive medications.