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I don’t really fancy snowboarding. So I just started working toward my goal.

Bridging Continents: Etinosa Igunbor’s Journey from Nigeria to Western

Etinosa Igunbor came 7,132 miles from equatorial coastal Africa to the sagebrush steppe of Western Colorado, but that was just one leg of his journey. As someone who loves the natural world, he’s still going to great lengths to make sure he has the education to be a part of the solutions that will save it. Only time will tell where his journey will take him next.

It all started on one evening in the rainy season of 2021 when Etinosa felt like he needed to grow. He had gone to the prestigious University of Benin to study soil science near his home in Nigeria and was working as a forest officer with the Edo State Government.

“In Nigeria, the share of forested land owned by the state has fallen from 29 percent to about 18 percent due to deforestation for agriculture and logging, both legal and illegal,” he said. “I intend to do effective forest management and develop innovative ideas to solve public land issues. It was time to develop myself so I could do more than I could with just a bachelor’s degree.”

The Long Journey to Study Abroad

He started looking at places in the U.S. where he could pursue a graduate degree that would help him move his work to a bigger stage. He found other schools, but he wasn’t excited about them in the same way he was excited about Western. Here, he thought the Master of Environmental Management (MEM) program would be a place where he could continue his work and eventually take what he’d learned back to Nigeria and a Non-Governmental Organization.

Fueled by a passion for the natural world, Etinosa set his sights on pursuing a graduate degree in the United States. Despite considering other institutions, he felt an excitement about Western, where he believed the Master of Environmental Management (MEM) program would be the catalyst for his ambitions. His goal was clear: gain the knowledge and skills necessary to address public land issues, not just in Africa but on a global scale.

Etinosa then took the plunge and jumped on a place for the 29-hour flight from Nigeria to Gunnison.

Etinosa Igunbor writes observations in a notebook while working with soil samples for his Master's in Environmental Management graduate project.

An International Student Navigating Big Changes

“When I arrived in August 2022, I was picked up by the airport by Micah Russell, the MEM Director, and found the people to be extremely welcoming, especially those in my program,” he said.

Lindsay Dolezal, the Clark School’s Program Facilitator and Grants Administrator had just started in her new role at Western when Etinosa arrived. She helped him get his Social Security card and open a bank account and even had him over for a dinner of elk tacos.

“I thought that he was brave for leaving his home country of Nigeria to join us in the frigid cold of Gunnison. I saw a student who has distinct passions for learning, connections, research, and the environment,” she said. “As time has gone on I have only gained a deeper sense of gratitude of Etinosa’s passions. Having him as my first student connection, he helped me discover my passion for helping the graduate students of The Clark School.”

For Etinosa, the personal connections made the transition easier, but it was still a big change from everything he had ever known. “Initially, the city of Gunnison was really different,” he said. “Even in August, it was really cold. In the winter, I don’t really fancy snowboarding. So I just started working toward my goal.”

Etinosa Igunbor weighs a soil sample on a scale for his Master's in Environmental Management graduate project.

Collaborative Research Leads to Success

Overcoming the initial culture and climatic difference, Etinosa immediately started leaning into his work, starting a research project with former faculty member Dr. Jennie DeMarco. Their work focused on rehabilitating soil and vegetation, as well as studying carbon sequestration in the soils and wetlands on Sapinero Mesa, west of Gunnison.

Through his hard work, he’s been able to secure more than 20 scholarships, among them Western’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity (JEDI) fellowship, the Coldharbour Institute’s Graduate Housing Fellowship for the last two years, and he was the Center for Mountain Transitions (CMT) and WCU scholarship recipient to attend the United Nation Mountain Partnership Conference in Aspen last year. The long list of awards will help him graduate this May without any debt from his studies at Western.

“I intend to develop my skills in effective forest management and use what I’ve learned not just in Nigeria or Africa but globally. I want to work with others and see how we can develop ideas for how we can solve some of our public lands issues. Also, we need to look at ways we can use these lands to help us mitigate the effects of climate change.”

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