Economics Major Assesses Cost of Disabilities

By Randall S. Barton | December 1, 2015

He was running out of time.

It was his first biology quiz at Reed, and Emmanuel “Chuks” Enemchukwu ’16 thought he had prepared himself. But the problems were trickier than he had anticipated. He was running out of time and yet he couldn’t concentrate. Couldn’t focus.

In truth, it had happened to him before, back in high school, but he kept hoping that he could break through, find the formula, demonstrate his knowledge like the other students. He hoped that somehow it would be different in America, different at Reed. He stared at the paper, willing the answers to come into focus.

He was out of time. And he was only halfway through the quiz.

An African proverb holds that “Nobody is born wise.” Nobody knows that better than Chuks, an econ major who overcame numerous hurdles before he flourished at Reed, where he has won the Davis Project for Peace, a Financial Services Fellowship, and a McGill Lawrence Summer Internship Award, working with Mercy Corps.

“Chuks is among the most driven, passionate, and inspiring students with whom I’ve worked at Reed,” says Dana Lawson, assistant dean of students for international student services. “It has been an honor to see him develop as a scholar and global citizen. His perspectives and contributions have made a great impact on the Reed community and beyond. He is thoughtful and serious about his future, and I’m excited to see all that he accomplishes in life beyond Reed—I know he has a promising future ahead.”

Chuks grew up on the shores of the Niger River in Onitsha, Nigeria, one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Raised by a mother who is a teacher and a father who is a dentist, he and his two sisters always took education seriously. At the age of 11, he was admitted to a boarding school for gifted children in Sulejua, Nigeria. Partway through his second year he realized that he was learning the wrong things and for the wrong reasons.

“In their love and academic fervor, my family wanted me to become a doctor like my father,” he says. “Somewhere along the way I mistook their impression of me as my impression of myself.” With only a year to go before the national examinations, he switched from science to business and faced the daunting task of cramming three years of coursework into a year. Nevertheless, he aced the exams, posting the top scores in his school, and among the best in the entire country.

“My Nigerian education taught me how to be resourceful and get a lot done with very little,” he says. “I look back on my ability to turn this around to reassure myself that I can accomplish whatever I set my mind on.”

After graduating from high school, Chuks was accepted into the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa—a two-year program that combines college preparation with African studies and entrepreneurial experience. When it came time to choose a college, he relied on advice from his guidance counselors and a favorite book, “Colleges that Change Lives” by Loren Pope, and picked Reed.

“Reed’s reputation for rigorous, intellectual pursuits, and learning for the sake of learning really appealed to me,” he says.

But in his freshman year, Chuks found that an old problem was coming back to haunt him. As far back as grade school, he had been slow to synthesize and reproduce knowledge. Rarely completing tests, he suffered from a short attention span. He hated high school science because the teachers went too fast for him. Found dozing in class, he would be awakened with a slap to the cheek and sent outside to cut grass. When his college counselor suggested that he be tested for a learning disability, Emmanuel refused to concede that anything was wrong with him.

“If you keep competing on an uneven playing field,” she warned, “sooner or later you’ll exhaust yourself.”

After he ran out of time on the biology quiz, Chuks recognized that he needed help. He made an appointment with Reed’s Disability Support Services, which worked with him to get the necessary accommodations.

It worked. With support, he was able to make the most of his time at Reed. He is working on his senior thesis on the economic cost of disabilities in Tanzania with Prof. Denise Hare [economics 1992–].

“It has been a pleasure to observe his progression from Introductory Economics with me his first semester at Reed up to the present,” says Prof. Hare. “It will be fun to watch as his thesis unfolds, and I expect he will continue to do interesting and admirable work after he graduates.”

Chuks appreciates Reed’s small class sizes, highly motivated student body and the effort professors make in developing students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills.

“Without the remarkably generous financial aid package, my dream of studying in the U.S. would have been dashed,” he says. “Reed also tries to match its tradition of promoting intellectual discourse with action, providing students with ample opportunities to travel and learn about the world and the different cultures in it.”

He also believes in giving back. He volunteers at SEEDS and is involved with the Rotary Club. “To be a good leader, an influencer, you have to serve,” he says. “I feel a sense of satisfaction knowing I can give back.”

Over the summer, he was invited to address a conference of college admission counselors from around the world in Eugene, Oregon. His talk impressed one counselor so much she contacted Reed to convey her appreciation. “Emmanuel delivered a message that inspired all of us to work harder, do better, for the sake of students we work with all around the world,” she said. 

Chuks hopes one day to return to Africa and use what he has learned as an econ major to help developing businesses grow. If he decides to pursue an MBA, he is confident that his time at Reed will give him an advantage. Last year he won a Financial Services Fellowship, which brings students to New York City to learn from alumni who work in the field of finance.

He invokes Hum 110 as a metaphor for the value of a Reed education. “Twenty years from now you might remember some of the content,” he says. “But at the end of the day what lasts is the skill set you develop. I was volunteering at a youth camp in Corbett and a number of them said, ‘I like the way you think. You think outside the box.’ I was delighted by that feedback but not surprised, because it’s what Reed is preparing us to do.”

Tags: Academics, Students, International, Health/Wellness