News: Featured Stories

Photo courtesy of the office of Gov. Charlie Baker
September 10, 2018

UMass Boston, UMass Medical School graduate sworn in as member of UMass Board of Trustees

By: 

  • The UMass System
Dr. Chioma Okwara, a primary care resident at Brigham & Women’s, calls becoming a UMass Trustee ‘humbling and surreal’

When she was a teenager in Kenya, Chioma Okwara’s 9-year-old brother died due to lack of access to the medical care after a car accident. It was then that she made it her life mission to become a doctor.

Okwara fulfilled that mission in June of 2017 when she received her medical degree from UMass Medical School, and Monday afternoon she was sworn in by Gov. Charlie Baker to serve as Trustee of the university that helped her realize her dreams. Okwara, who is now a primary care resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, called the experience “humbling and surreal.” 

“I never imagined that I would be in this kind of position,” Okwara said. “I think I’ve had somewhat of an unusual story, but because UMass has been so good to me and because I’ve had so much support along the way, that’s the only reason why I’m able to stand here today.”

“I’m thrilled to welcome Dr. Okwara to the UMass Board of Trustees,” said Chairman Rob Manning. “Not only is Dr. Okwara brilliant, hardworking and resilient, but she is someone who embodies the UMass mission, and we are fortunate to have her on the board.” 

Okwara’s family immigrated to Lowell in 2007, when she was 17. She earned her GED, enrolled at Middlesex Community College and later transferred to UMass Boston, where she earned her B.S. in Biology in the honors program in 2012. She supported herself through college as a restaurant hostess, therapeutic assistant and researcher in a UMass Boston lab.

After graduating from UMass Boston, Okwara conducted research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., working on HIV immunoregulation. She returned to Massachusetts to attend UMass Medical School, and, 10 years after immigrating to Lowell, Okwara received her M.D. in June 2017.

“Dr. Okwara is a wonderful example of how a UMass education can transform lives,” said UMass President Marty Meehan. “As a young alumnus of two of our campuses with a number of unique life experiences, she will be a valuable addition to the Board, and I look forward to working with her.”

“It has been a privilege to witness Chioma’s professional and personal growth into the physician and role model that she is today,” said UMass Medical School Chancellor Michael F. Collins, M.D. “She is committed to medicine and serving her community for all the right reasons. The university’s Board will be immensely enriched by Chioma’s rich and varied lived experiences.”

Throughout her undergraduate and medical education, Okwara was a recipient of the Charles D. Baker II Scholarship, created by Gov. Baker in honor of his grandfather, so she said the experience of being sworn in by Gov. Baker on Monday was a bit like coming full circle.

Though Okwara has a busy schedule at Brigham and Women’s Hospital — working as many as 80 hours a week — she said she is fully dedicated to her role as Trustee and has already spoken with her program director about making schedule adjustments for Board meetings.

“I’m really excited to give UMass the best that I can, because they absolutely gave me the best,” she said.

View additional photos of the swearing-in.