On Feb. 2, Sonia Igboanugo, a fourth-year McMaster biomedical discovery and commercialization student and co-founder of Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster, received the Lincoln Alexander scholarship at the John C. Holland awards, which celebrates African-Canadian achievement in Hamilton.
Igboanugo and McMaster grad student Kayonne Christy launched BAP-MAC during the 2016-2017 school year to support Black McMaster students striving to become physicians and other healthcare professionals.
Igboanugo was inspired to create the club following her attendance at a University of Toronto summer mentorship program geared towards Indigenous and Black students interested in health sciences.
“I felt like that program changed my life in terms of inspiring me in what I thought I could do and what my capacity was as a potential health care professional,” Igboanugo said. “I felt very empowered and I felt very interested in this in bringing the same experience to McMaster.”
Since then, BAP-MAC has steadily grown. Currently, the club has over 100 members, proving a variety of resources to its members.
As part of the BAP-MAC mentorship program, younger students are paired with a mentor who provides academic and career guidance.
Throughout the year, BAP-MAC also arms students with information about research opportunities and hosts workshops and talks led by healthcare professionals.
At its core, however, BAP-Mac simply serves as a community for Black students on campus.
“For me, the biggest part has been connecting with older students who can help me navigate through university,” said first-year kinesiology student Ida Olaye, who aspires to go to medical school. “BAP-MAC gives you that support group, to know that you’re not alone, that there are a lot of people trying to pursue the same dream that you are pursuing and it is very doable.”
This past year, BAP-MAC received a three-year grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
The grant has allowed BAP-MAC to host a conference for the first time. The event is scheduled for this upcoming May.
The grant also allows the club to expand its vision to empower Black youth on a larger scale.
“Because we have a pretty good campus presence, I would say, but the goal was to address the issue of lack of diversity on a more systemic front,” Igboanugo said.
Part of that is a new initiative aimed at incorporating high school students into the BAP-MAC program by connecting them to undergraduate student mentors.
Second-year human behaviour student Simi Olapade, who is also the associate director of multimedia for BAP-MAC, sees a lot of value in the initiative.
“Reaching out to those high school students is an opportunity that I even wished I had to be honest. Seeing someone like you in a place where you want to be helps so much in terms of making you focus more on achieving that goal, making you more goal-oriented and making you more focused,” Olapade said.
Reflecting on the award she recently received, Igboanugo says the work she does as part of BAP-MAC only reflects how others have helped her.
“It was very humbling to actually be recognized for the work because it is the greatest thing or greatest privilege I have to always serve my community or use my strength to better my community and the people around me,” Igboanugo said.
Students wishing to get involved with BAP-MAC can learn more about the group’s initiatives on BAP-MAC’s Facebook page.