In 2016, Chika Okoli moved to the United States from Nigeria, hoping to start a new career and a new life with his wife and three sons.
This new chapter in life started off with a major obstacle. His wife’s VISA was delayed, so Okoli traveled to the U.S. with his two oldest sons while his wife, who was then pregnant with his youngest son, remained in Nigeria. The family would stay separated for more than two years while they waited for Mrs. Okoli’s VISA to be approved.
“My dad went to college here in Little Rock back in the day and got a master’s degree from Texas. When I was planning to come over here to get my education, I decided to come here,” Okoli said. “I wanted to come with my family, but I couldn’t do that at the moment because of limitations on immigration. I had to come without my wife because our sons’ VISAs could expire if we waited. While I was in school here, I was a single dad with my two boys. It took almost three years before my wife and youngest son could come over.”
While he had a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Nigeria, Okoli planned to combine his love of computers, which his close friends referred to him as “Cyborg,” with the healthcare industry by pursuing a master’s degree in nurse informatics, which requires an undergraduate degree in nursing. After joining UA Little Rock, Okoli was pleasantly surprised by how well he took to nursing.
“I didn’t know that medicine would be this awesome,” Okoli said. “Nursing has gotten my attention.”
After graduating with his associate of applied science in nursing in May 2021, Okoli began working as a nurse at a mental health facility with the Arkansas Department of Human Services. He also joined UA Little Rock’s online Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and will graduate this summer.
Once he finishes up at UA Little Rock, Okoli is looking forward to the first break he’s had from school since 2017. However, it won’t be a long break. He is working to earn enough clinical hours so he can apply to the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at UAMS with a specialty in psychiatry, a program he hopes to begin in August 2023.
“One thing that worked for me is that I thrive pretty well under pressure,” Okoli said. “I am doing this for a purpose. That pressure is what drives me and gets me to do well. If you are coming into nursing, the first thing you learn is to be strong. I persevered even though it was difficult. With the solid background we had at UA Little Rock, you can compete with anybody anywhere.”
Okoli also has another milestone to celebrate this spring. In addition to completing his education at UA Little Rock, Okoli also became a U.S. citizen March 17. His family was there to help him celebrate, which now includes a daughter who was born in Arkansas in 2019.
“My full name, Chikaodinaka and abbreviated as Chika, means in God’s hands, and I trust God,” Okoli said. “I’ve aspired to live here for the rest of my life. That is why I applied for citizenship. Having citizenship status is breathtaking. That is how I understood that I’m meant to be here with my family for the rest of my life.”