At ServiceMaster Brands, our We Care value guides every action we take, and that extends to what we do outside of our company. That’s why in 1984 we established the SMB Scholarship Endowment at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. This scholarship provides an opportunity for students to strengthen their skills and knowledge to make impactful contributions to society.
To receive this scholarship, the recipient has to initially be receiving a merit scholarship and is only awarded the SMB scholarship through the recommendation of the Chair of the Health Sector Management Certificate program. The recipient is awarded the scholarship through the entirety of the two – year program.
We were excited to award this year’s SMB Scholarship Endowment to Ekene Okonkwoaguolu – a first-year Fuqua student with a certificate in Health Sector Management.
Get to know Ekene –
Ekene Okonkwoaguolu has always had an entrepreneurial spirit – one that he started nurturing when he was young by selling pencils to his classmates. Even during the different paths taken through his life, Ekene kept that entrepreneurial spirit alive which eventually drove him to start his own business.
Ekene Okonkwoaguolu grew up in California before moving to New York to follow his mom’s new career opportunity. In New York, Ekene finished up his high school before moving on to New Hampshire where he attended Dartmouth College, graduating with a degree in Economics. Throughout his time at Dartmouth, Ekene had the opportunity to obtain several internships – one which led to a full-time career opportunity post-graduation. Ekene took advantage of this opportunity and accepted a position at Deutsche Bank as an Analyst. Life was going great for Ekene: he had graduated from an Ivy League school and had just started his career.
Unfortunately, in life there are always highs and lows. During the start of what should have been the best time of his life, Ekene was diagnosed with a genetic condition called Alport Syndrome – a condition characterized by the progressive loss of kidney function. There is currently no specific treatment for Alport Syndrome, only treating the symptoms of this condition to hopefully slow down the progression of kidney disease.
However, this diagnosis did not stop Ekene. He persevered through all the treatments while juggling his new career. Regrettably, Ekene’s condition worsened, and his treatment plan progressed to requiring dialysis on a regular basis. This made a work-medical treatment balance hard for Ekene. Yet, this new change did not deter Ekene, but instead pushed him to find a new career that would fit his new reality – one that would accommodate 12 hours a week of receiving treatment.
This is when Ekene decided to tap into his entrepreneurial spirit – the one that he kept burning since his school supply selling days – and start his own business, Startup Ventures. This was a venture capital business that focused on helping small businesses get a start.
As Ekene navigated through different parts of the healthcare system, he started to notice that there was one key issue with how the different systems and policies were set up: the patient’s voice is missing. For Ekene, the healthcare system and its policies are not set up to work for the patient – a personal example for him was trying to accommodate dialysis into a 9 – 5 workday while the clinic only operated during the same timeframe.
Integral to who he is, Ekene’s values stem from serving and caring for others as well as always doing the right thing. That’s why he aims to change the game and use his new Health Sector Management skills to advocate for patients. His goal is to impact the healthcare system and its policies by making the patient the central voice – a goal that motivates Ekene every day.
Ekene’s perseverance has provided him with the strength to push through any challenge and change that life throws his way. He stays committed to always doing the right thing and speaking up for others when they can’t speak for themselves. He thanks his mom – his #EverydayHero – for being a strong support system by helping him navigate his Alport Syndrome & treatments.
In the future, Ekene hopes to one day be able to do for others what the SMB Scholarship Endowment has done for him: be given the opportunity to gain skills that will allow him to make an impact in society.