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Leadership Opportunities Spur Nsonwu’s Big Dreams

When it comes to planning for the future, NC State University junior Adora Nsonwu thinks big. Very big.

“I want to do a billion things,” she said.

More specifically, Nsonwu is interested in humanitarian work and considering joining the Peace Corps after graduation and then attending law school. But the English and anthropology double major’s ultimate goal is to work as a director for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

She even spent time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last summer shadowing the refugee agency and seeing its work with refugees from Myanmar firsthand.

“The difficult thing to accept about my work in Malaysia is the fact that many refugees deal with this prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping on a daily basis. After fleeing for their safety from their homelands, many continue to be stigmatized because of how they look, speak, act and dress,” Nsonwu wrote in her journal. “They often sleep in cramped, mile-high condos or in tents if they cannot find space or money to pay for rent. The worst part is that many do not even want to be there. There is no opportunity, there is no safety: it is simply the best option.”

The daughter of a social worker and a businessman who immigrated to the United States, Nsonwu — a Greensboro native — said her family always valued the refugee experience. Her time at NC State has only strengthened her resolve to make a difference.

During her freshman year, Nsonwu applied for and received a Shelton-Caldwell Fellows Scholarship, which includes an academic award and opportunities for leadership and service through both the Shelton Leadership Center and the Caldwell Fellows Program.

In fact, the scholarship provided resources that allowed her to take the trip to Malaysia last summer.

“Caldwell and Shelton have been absolutely pivotal for me,” she said. “They are incredible communities of people who are not necessarily like-minded, but who are equally as passionate about doing good.

The Caldwell Fellows Program is named in honor of former NC State Chancellor John T. Caldwell and his legacy of servant leadership. The Shelton Leadership Center pays tribute to NC State alumnus Gen. H. Hugh Shelton, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The center works to inspire, educate and develop values-based leaders committed to personal integrity, professional ethics and selfless service.

“We always ask, ‘what do you need us to do?’ It has taught me a lot about volunteering as a means to truly help somebody, rather than as a means to feel good about myself or to just feel good about what I’m doing,” Nsonwu said.

A trip last year to Mount Airy, the hometown of a fellow Shelton Scholar, to help with a community project gave Nsonwu the opportunity to ponder her experiences at NC State and as a Shelton-Caldwell Scholar.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to practice being a servant leader now,” she said. “They’ve taught me how to reflect and how to receive constructive criticism and praise to move forward.”

Caldwell and Shelton staff set an example of servant leadership in action, according to Nsonwu. Both programs depend upon donor support to provide opportunities for students.

Although NC State is the largest university in North Carolina, Nsonwu said the community of students, faculty and staff makes it feel like home.

“I just really love that about it. Everyone is here to help you. They have your best interests at heart,” she said. “It’s just a great place to be.”