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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024
The Observer

University salutatorian reflects on time at Notre Dame, hopes to inspire others

Love Osunnuga, a Granger, Ind. native, frequently visited Notre Dame to attend the “Physics for Everyone” lecture series with her high school’s science club. Osunnuga, now Notre Dame's class of 2020 salutatorian, said the experience was a key influencing factor in her decision to pursue science and join the fighting Irish family. 

Looking back on her four year journey, Osunnuga is thankful for the experiences she has learned.

“Notre Dame has taught me to think critically… I appreciate how it has broadened my horizons and allowed me not to be stuck in the STEM mentality,” she said. 

Osunnuga will be graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a 4.0 grade point average as an honors mathematics and biological sciences double major. She is a member of the University’s Glynn Family Honors Program, Phi Beta Kappa honor society, a Notre Dame Stamps Scholar and has been on the Dean’s List since her freshman year. She has also been awarded prestigious honors in both her fields of study, as the recipient of the College of Science Dean’s Award and the GE Prize for Excellence in Mathematics. 

After graduation, Osunnuga will be attending the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania as a 21st Century Scholarship recipient to pursue her Doctor of Medicine. Perelman was Osunnuga’s top choice out of her nine medical school acceptances. 

“I want to do academic medicine. I hope I can also keep doing research and then do clinical practice, actually working with patients,” Osunnuga said. “I am considering specialities in dermatology or neurosurgery.”

Her interest in medical research began after taking a cellular biology research course with Dr. Michelle Whaley as a sophomore. The following summer, Osunnuga continued to pursue her passion for research by studying pancreatic cancer and immunology in Dr. Robert H. Vonderheide’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania, where she first experienced her future medical school. She then continued to do research as a junior in Notre Dame Professor Crislyn D'Souza-Schorey's lab during the school year on Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease, a rare disease that causes tumors to arise throughout the body. 

Other experiences that helped foster her interest in medicine were her extracurriculars. As a freshman, she was advised by a senior pre-med student in the Building Bridges mentoring program on opportunities for aspiring doctors on campus, leading to her joining the Biology Club and Multicultural Pre-Medical Society, which she became secretary for as a junior.

 “I loved being involved in Biology Club, it gave me a lot of interactions with other biology majors and allowed me to attend a lot of events.” said Osunnuga. “I helped out with the biology research networking dinner all four years.”

During the past four years, she also volunteered at and served as an emergency room medical scribe at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka, shadowed physicians in Spain through a winter break program and she was a chemistry and math tutor, an ONEXYS coach and a coordinator for the math bunker.

Osunnuga also believes it is important to take time for things you are passionate about. The summer after her freshman year she took a break from medicine to take part in an education teaching Summer Service Learning Project at the Robinson Learning Center in South Bend. “I didn’t want to do medicine that summer because I thought I would be doing a lot of medical related things after that,” she said. At the center she taught classes in music theory, geography, crocheting and beginners sign language. 

Teaching music theory was one of the ways Osunnuga was able to stay involved in music alongside her rigorous coursework. “I’ve played the piano since I was six and the violin since I was 12,” Osunnuga said. Her musical background also led to her working at the off-campus Suzuki Music School as a piano accompanist all four years during her time at Notre Dame. 

Osunnuga is grateful for her professors who inspired and supported her. “For math, Claudia Polini. She is super smart but also extremely kind. Women in math are so rare and she's an amazing one.” Osunnuga said. “Dr. Hyde for genetics… Fr. Grove for Theology — there have been a lot of them.”

As a child of immigrant parents from Nigeria and a woman of color in STEM, Osunnuga hopes to inspire others to pursue their dreams.

“Don’t let other people define you. A lot of people will try to tell you how you should think or act. It’s about embracing your own personality and interests,” she said. “Whatever you do, pursue that with everything you have, that’s most important and will lead you to success and happiness.”