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Okeke Sisters Celebrate Shared Graduation from UA Little Rock

Sisters Vanessa Okeke, left, and Ivory Okeke have both graduated from UA Little Rock this spring. Photo by Benjamin Krain.
Sisters Vanessa Okeke, left, and Ivory Okeke have both graduated from UA Little Rock this spring. Photo by Benjamin Krain.

Sisters Vanessa and Ivory Okeke are only one year apart, so they are used to sharing things.

At UA Little Rock, the sisters had the unique experience of not only graduating from the same university this semester, but also earning the same degree all while working in the same research center.

“It’s funny because it didn’t feel that odd to us,” Ivory said. “We actually went to the same undergrad school, but we studied different courses. This is the first time we’ve studied together. It was a blessing because not many people get the same opportunity. We serve as a kind of support to each other and push each other to be better.”

“I can’t imagine coming here alone,” Vanessa agreed. “Especially being international students, I have my family here and I have my sister with me. It’s a lot of support. I thank God that we came here together.”

Natives of Nigeria, the Okekes came to UA Little Rock to earn master’s degrees in business information systems and analytics. Ivory, the oldest of three sisters, studied biochemistry for her undergraduate degree, while Vanessa, the middle sister, studied architecture.

“I was looking for a way to transition into the tech industry,” Vanessa said. “I was unofficially learning from YouTube, but I needed an actual degree to prove that I had the education. My degree from UA Little Rock gives me everything I need. With it, I can be a data analyst or a software engineer.”

Both sisters named Professors Nitin Agarwal, Alan Boss, and Sung-Kwan Kim among their favorite professors. Ivory also named Dr. Wenjun Wang, while Vanessa mentioned Dr. Sarah Clements.

At first, the Okekes said their professors worried that the sisters would do their homework together, but they quickly developed a system to disavow anyone of that idea.

“Our assignments are widely different,” Vanessa said. “We do assignments separately and uniquely as possible so there isn’t a worry of copying each other.”

Both sisters also worked as research assistants at the Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies, which is led by Dr. Agarwal, Jerry L. Maulden-Entergy Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor of Information Science.

This spring, Ivory had the chance to present her COSMOS research papers, “Examining Content and Emotion Bias in YouTube’s Recommendation Algorithm,” at the Ninth International Conference on Human and Social Analytics (HUSO 2023) in Barcelona, Spain. She fondly remembers this as her favorite memory while attending UA Little Rock.

“I got the opportunity to travel to Europe, which was amazing,” Ivory said. “The trip was full of learning, excitement, and adventure.”

During summer 2022, the siblings received valuable experience through internships. Ivory worked as a software engineer intern at Credit Karma in Charlotte, North Carolina, while Vanessa was a software engineer intern at Microsoft in Atlanta.

Now that they’ve graduated, Ivory and Vanessa will both be working as software engineers in the U.S. The sisters are both grateful for the education and research experience they received at UA Little Rock that helped prepare them for the next step in their careers.

“My experience has been great,” Ivory said. “I am grateful that my first introduction to working in the United States was Arkansas and COSMOS. As a team, I’ve learned a lot. I feel really lucky. The people of Arkansas are very friendly. COSMOS has taught me a lot, and my degree was everything I hoped for. It has been very fulfilling, and I feel very blessed.”