Reversing Nigeria’s ‘brain drain’

Christine Umeh’s parents grew up in Nigeria butmoved to the United States to escape a nation rife with poverty, war, and corruption.

While they looked to Boston for a better life, Umeh set her sights set on returning to Africa.

“My goal is to move there and play a role in stopping the brain drain,” said Umeh, a fourth-year communication studies major.

Umeh grew up near Northeastern and spent every summer between sixth and 12th grade on campus at Balfour Academy, a program established by the university to help local students prepare for college. Any Balfour student who is accepted to Northeastern is rewarded with a full scholarship and, in 2009, Umeh received one. She has made the most of the opportunity, serving as president of the Northeastern African Student Association and as one of the John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute’s Ujima Scholars.

Northeastern doesn’t offer study abroad programs to Nigeria—the U.S. State Department warns citizens against traveling there, especially to the northern provinces where a state of emergency has been declared—so Umeh spent the spring semester in Ghana. She studied at University of Ghana – Legon, taking courses related to African culture and media studies.

After making a connection with the teaching assistant in her traditional dance course, Umeh appeared as a dancer in a Coca-Cola advertisement that aired worldwide. The ad’s director even enlisted her to help with music videos for some of Ghana’s top recording artists.

When she returned to Boston, Umeh immediately started planning her return to Ghana. She found a co-op job with Empower Workforce Solutions, a job recruitment partner for which she’ll work as a public relations assistant from the end of this month through December.

The forthcoming experiential learning opportunity is a step toward her dream job of working in Africa’s growing media and entertainment industry from Nigeria, a country she believes is on the cusp of major change. Within a decade, she predicts, the country will be on its way to becoming a prosperous, thriving nation.

“There’s so much potential,” she said. “There’s so much room for development and investment and I want to play a role in that.”