Abigail Abikoye, a senior biological sciences major with a minor in poverty studies, has been named the recipient of the Richard J. Wood Student Community Commitment Award from Community-Engaged Alliance. She is Notre Dame’s 13th Wood Award recipient.
The Wood Award, established in 1996, honors Indiana students who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to community engagement.
Abikoye, of Prince George’s County, Maryland, started serving as a volunteer tutor at the Robinson Community Learning Center (RCLC) in South Bend during her sophomore year, developing an interest in how lack of access to quality educational opportunities may impact people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
“My time volunteering as a tutor helped me recognize the importance of having this consistent space for kids to be able to do their homework and to get help on a regular basis from people who care about them,” she said.
Through a course with an internship component, Abikoye continued to build on her relationships with the RCLC staff and students and learn more about the mission and the history of the center. “I was able to become better connected to the center and the staff and students there in ways that I didn’t experience as a tutor.”
As an intern, she noticed that there was a need for more STEM programming and used her biological sciences background to develop and host a workshop. “I remember around fifth grade I had exciting experiences in my science class, which made me interested in entering STEM from an early age,” she said. “I wanted to expose the students to a fun STEM activity that would give them an opportunity to explore any interests or talents they may have, so I organized a DNA extraction activity and I prepared microscope slides to show them plant cells and cheek cells.”
In her senior year, an expanded role with the RCLC through AmeriCorps allowed Abikoye to become more involved in programming. “When I was a tutor I worked with one individual at a time, but through the AmeriCorps appointment I’ve been able to take greater initiative with planning and leading programming for youth development,” Abikoye said. “I’ve really been able to build relationships with the kids, and that has allowed me to serve the center better too.”
Abikoye says her experiences at the RCLC have informed her goals for her future. “I’m actively trying to find ways to integrate my interest in health, medicine, public health and education.”
Lulama Moyo, assistant director of the Community-Engaged Learning Program for the Center for Social Concerns, nominated Abikoye for the award.
In addition to her work with the RCLC, in 2020 Abikoye completed an internship with the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty, in which she says she gained deeper insight into the complexity of social issues. “Through this internship I learned that we need to really listen to people we seek to help in order to bring about effective, sustainable change.”
During her time at Notre Dame, she was a member of the African Students Association, Notre Dame Biology Club, Science Undergraduate Diversity Council, Inclusive Excellence Committee and the Senior Leadership Committee for the Department of Biological Sciences and the Black Biological Science Majors Affinity Group. She was also on the advisory board of the Center for Career Development First Generation Careers Initiative.
Abikoye was recognized at an award ceremony April 8 in French Lick, Indiana. Along with the public recognition, she also received a cash gift.
Abikoye plans to take a gap year, spending the summer interning as a research assistant with Clark Power, professor in the Program of Liberal Studies and executive director of Play Like a Champion. She is also applying to medical schools.