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Student Spotlight: Nick Okafor

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September 12, 2022

Meet Nick Okafor
Incoming PhD student

Dallas, Texas

Brooklyn, New York

Washington University in St. Louis

Bachelor of Science, Mechanical Engineering and International Development (double major)

Academic and work experience

In college, I became obsessed with the question, "How do you scale impact?", which—combined with my love of building things growing up—has led me on a lifelong journey of exploring social innovation. In college, I wanted an interdisciplinary education that could grant me two things: a technical skillset to create new solutions to complex problems, and cultural-competency that would enable me to understand root causes to systemic issues. This led me to a double major in Mechanical Engineering and International Development. Since then, I've worked with startups, nonprofits, and multinational corporations to scale social impact products & strategy using data, research, and design at places like BCG, Planned Parenthood, and BURN Manufacturing. Most recently, I led commercialization for early-stage products at Sidewalk Labs (an Alphabet company), launching products and services to improve the quality of life in cities. When it came to choosing graduate school, a PhD with MS&E was an obvious choice. It offers access to interdisciplinary education on technology & entrepreneurship, a network of researchers and practitioners committed to innovating for good, and the opportunity to focus on my research question: How does one incentivize responsible urban innovation?

Impact I hope to have in my field and the world

Ultimately, I plan to work between cities and startups to scale data & tech to improve public services, responsibly. I believe we are just scratching the surface of what value can be unlocked with the advances of analytics, AI, and machine learning. That being said, we are also at extreme risk of scaling the societal biases we've yet to address through code. I plan for my research to document the consequences of disruption and abolitionist business models toward innovation, accelerating the use responsible use of technology within the urban environment.

Interests and hobbies

I really enjoy experimenting with plant-based recipes, getting lost biking in cities, and discovering new musicians across genres. Additionally, education and giving back is important to me, so I also run a nonprofit called trubel&co, a culturally-responsive technical education platform that champions diverse youth to disrupt society for the better.

Meet the 2022 incoming PhD cohort