Michael Adjei is the first Indiana University School of Medicine student to receive the I Have a Dream Award presented by the IUPUI Black Student Union and Black Faculty and Staff Council. Adjei was recognized for his academic achievement and community leadership at the 49th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Dinner on Jan. 14.
Growing up in a community plagued by disease, Adjei learned about illness long before he learned about medicine. Born and raised in eastern Ghana, he lived with his aunt and siblings while his mother sought work in Europe and the United States. He can still see images of his aunt standing over a boiling pot, dropping their dishes and flatware into the rolling water, sanitizing every piece. His earliest memory of medicine occurred on the streets of Ghana when relief groups distributed free vaccinations to the public.
“After the vaccinations came, more of my friends started returning to the playgrounds and showing up to class,” Adjei says. “Death seemed to decline in the town. And I knew I wanted to be like those people who helped prevent disease.”
But the road to medical school would not be an easy one. In 2009, Adjei and his siblings went through DNA testing and other entry processes to join their mother in the United States. He worked full time while completing his undergraduate degree at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he graduated with honors. But after facing multiple rejections to medical school from other universities, Adjei feared that his dream of being a healer might burn out.
“IU School of Medicine was the only school that had hope in me. They could see that I had been trying so hard and invited me for an interview,” he recalls.
Adjei’s interviewer encouraged him to consider the Master of Science in Medical Science (MSMS) program. Eager to find a way into medical school, Adjei left the interview and went straight to the MSMS office to learn more.
“Applying to the MSMS program has become the best decision I have made in my medical school career. I was supported by my classmates and faculty, and I was provided with resources that prepared me very well for medical school,” says Adjei.
Now a second-year medical student, Adjei is the president of the MSMS student interest group, where he is committed to enriching the learning experience and establishing a supportive network by connecting students with alumni mentors. He is also an active community volunteer – participating in programs that reach out to underrepresented communities, advocate for equal access to health care and teach local youth about careers in science and medicine.
“Michael is always looking to enhance and improve – even without being asked,” says Vicki Bonds, director of health professions and pre-doctoral programs, who nominated Adjei for the award. “He is philanthropic, very collegial and collaborative. Michael is a person who can organize and gather like-minded people to accomplish goals. ”
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Dinner is a tradition that honors Dr. King’s memory, while promoting community service, racial justice, empowerment and equality. In a video produced for this year’s event Adjei is asked for his definition of success.
“Reach back and help somebody out. Success is not about how much money you make or what living you make for yourself, but it’s about the difference made in the lives of other people,” he says.
In the spirit of Dr. King’s famous dream for equality, the I Have a Dream Award gives recognition to individuals who demonstrate a dedication to both personal and social progress. It turns out that Michael Adjei, a worthy candidate, does indeed have a dream.