Mentors matter: student follows former lecturer, graduates from Nebraska

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Mentors matter: student follows former lecturer, graduates from Nebraska

This is a continuation of our "IANR is Global" series, which highlights the many ways internationalization is woven through the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources: through research collaboration, government and private industry partnerships, extension work, student educational experiences and beyond.

Mentors, whether in the form of advisers, professors or supervisors can have a lifelong impact. Rufus Akinrinlola, who graduates with his master’s degree in plant pathology this week, can attest to that. A former mentor who later landed in Nebraska was the catalyst that led him to study here.

“Tony Adesemoye used to be my lecturer in Nigeria, he mentored me in my undergraduate research, then later he came to the U.S. to Nebraska. I told him about my aspirations to come to the U.S. for my graduate studies and he advised me to apply to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.”

After completing his undergraduate degree in microbiology at Adekunle Ajasin University in Akungba-Akoko in the southwestern state of Ondo in Nigeria, Akinrinlola followed his mentor's advice. He was accepted into a program at Nebraska, eventually working under the guidance of Gary Yuen and Adesemoye to study plant growth-promoting bacteria.

“I learned a lot from them. Through their mentoring, I learn what makes a great professor/mentor. Contrary to my previous experience, the two advisors - Dr. Yuen and Dr. Tony, were always enthusiastic listening to my questions and providing answers and guidance each time I approached them. Dr. Tony could answer my phone call any time to answer any question I may have.  The support that Dr. Gary Yuen provided me in terms of training in research, teaching, and scientific writing are unbelievable," Akinrinlola said. "Overall, through their efforts and commitment to my master's success, I learned that great professors are multitasking problem-solvers that delight in solving both 'personal' and 'national' problems. In my opinion, a nation which does not maximally take advantage of the wealth of knowledge of its professors would go into oblivion." 

Akinrinlola said that Nebraska doesn’t quite fit the busy stereotype most people have of the U.S.

“It’s a very peaceful environment and people are very friendly,” he said. “Not much crime here. I can go to lab any time of the day and not worry. It’s something I love.”

After he completes a Ph.D., Akinrinlola has big dreams for a career in his home country, and hopes to help others, as he was helped in his formative educational years.

"Ideally, I see myself establishing an agro-based industry in Nigeria. There is a need to find a way to produce tomatoes and other vegetables in large quantities from south-western part of my home country  as most of the tomatoes and onions consumed in Nigeria are grown in the northern part, and this always results to scarcity of the commodities, especially during festive season or unfavorable events in the northern part," he said. "So I see myself solving this problem perhaps by establishing a hydroponics tomato producing company or lead an agricultural extension programs that would ensure better and larger vegetables from southwestern Nigeria."

He notes the importance, both from his own point of view and with a larger perspective, of universities with expertise in agriculture providing opportunities for young researchers from other parts of the world.

“Universities here in the U.S., especially Nebraska, have so much knowledge that could help people in other parts of the world improve their ways of life,” he said.

Akinrinlola said he especially appreciates the extension system of land-grant universities and thinks it’s a valuable model to developing countries.

“Research here is based on the problems of society. It’s to provide solutions. Those solutions they discover in the lab are transferred to the public…This is something that other people from other parts of the world can implement.”

Akinrinlola is most emphatic about his gratitude toward his mentors.

“They have helped me improve in my career, my personal (life); how to be a good leader, how to be a good researcher. I will never be the same after having known them.”

By Brianne Wolf | Program and Outreach Associate, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources-Global Engagement 

Do you have an international element to your work or studies that you'd like to see highlighted in our "IANR is Global" Series? Contact Brianne Wolf in the IANR Global Engagement Office at