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Olutooni Ajayi awarded a PEO International Peace Scholarship

Olutooni Ajayi, a graduate student in the first year of her doctoral studies in CEGE, has been awarded a PEO International Peace Scholarship.

PEO is an organization that supports women from other countries who are studying in the US or Canada. It is primarily a needs-based scholarship, but they also weigh leadership skills and how an applicant contributed to helping women, young girls, or children.

Although she describes herself as someone who likes to stay out of the spotlight, Olutooni Ajayi has learned to step up and lead when necessary. So, she had experience that made her shine as an applicant for this scholarship.

In Nigeria, where Ajayi completed her undergraduate degree, college graduates are expected to carry out a year of community development service after graduation. For her service, Ajayi chose to work with the SDG (sustainable development goals) and worked with young women. “Some of the things that we did were to organize outreach to women and children on health awareness, the importance of education, and making females more aware that they have equal rights to education and health. We encouraged those who desired an education to go into STEM fields, fields often thought to be meant for males, not females. Furthermore, during my master’s, I had opportunities to mentor some female undergraduates who worked with me in the lab.” The PEO International Peace Scholarship will support Ajayi’s research on wastewater treatment.

Her Master’s research at Clarkson University involved removing ammonia, a major inhibitor during the conversion of food waste to energy. Ajayi’s research fits well within the larger work of her adviser, Professor Paige Novak, who researches biological approaches to treating wastewater. Now, Ajayi is specifically looking at how to encapsulate bacteria to treat a variety of waste streams. She is trying to bring together a community of mixed organisms that, when encapsulated, will efficiently treat selected high-strength wastewaters. Other objectives of her research include making the process more efficient and exploring energy generation within the process.

Ajayi developed her passion for the environment in an undergraduate class on environmental engineering. “I became excited about the idea of being part of something that would help to make life easier and better for people. That's why I decided to go into environmental engineering. And I became even more committed when I started working on research. I'm glad that I'm part of something that I believe will help the environment. We have one world to live in and we have to take care of it.”

Why the U?

I was attracted to the University of Minnesota because of the quality of research being done here, in addition to my overlapping interests with Professor Novak’s work. I’m glad Paige offered me the opportunity to be part of her research team. She is a great professor, she's really good at what she does, and she creates an environment that is conducive to learning. She is one of the best in this field, and she inspires me to be better at what I do.

“I also like the fact that there's a lot of diversity at UMN. I have met students from different parts of the world, and there are really nice people here. One of the things that has kept me going through the pandemic is the work atmosphere in my research group. My research group members are friendly and helpful. I’m glad I have them as colleagues, and it excites me to work with people that want to help to create a cleaner world and a healthier ecosystem.”

More about Olutooni Ajayi

On top of engineering, Olutooni Ajayi excels at music. Hear her sing and play guitar