Hometown: Fayetteville, Ark.
Campus: University Park
Claim to fame: Recipient of Penn State’s 2021 Outstanding Adult Student Award.
Favorite subjects: Advanced human cadaver dissection and pathophysiology. “The body is so fascinating to me.”
Hobbies: Hiking in state forests—with her cat on a leash.
“Structure and discipline are the hallmarks of any military service,” says retired U.S. Marine Sgt. Chioma Okoroafor. “That’s also what’s enabled me to succeed in school.” Okoroafor, who served in the Marines for five years, began taking college credits online while stationed in Japan. After she left active duty, she moved to State College in 2020 to complete dual degrees in biology and psychology. Then the pandemic hit. “Many people struggled with remote learning during the shutdown, but it was a smooth transition for me,” says Okoroafor, who had already been doing it for several years.
Okoroafor received Penn State’s Outstanding Adult Student Award in April for her work in classes and the community. In addition to being a volunteer EMT, she’s a crisis counselor for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence through the local nonprofit Centre Safe.
The 24-year-old vegan advocates for sustainability: She helped to plant the Arboretum’s new pollinator garden, has written to legislators about environmental issues from fracking to single-use plastics, and is passionate about how climate change and social justice are intertwined. Says Okoroafor, “The lower socioeconomic classes are suffering the most.”
Penn State’s Office of Veterans Programs was instrumental in Okoroafor transitioning to campus—and civilian—life. She’s now paying it forward by meeting with prospective ROTC students to discuss anything from the GI Bill to VA benefits.
Okoroafor will pursue medical school and a career in obstetrics and gynecology after graduating next year. As a biracial woman, she’s aware of being a double minority in medicine—and is eager to change that. She’s also moved by the maternal health crisis for women of color. “It’s unfathomable,” she says. “I want to be part of the solution.”