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July 12, 2019

Nkrumah Grant: From GED to Ph.D.

July 19, 2019

Nkrumah Grant is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. As part of a partnership between WKAR and Michigan State University's Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) program, we are featuring the stories of student scientists. Here’s Nkrumah’s story.

I’ve always been interested in science from the time I was a child. I remember I would pick up black widows [spiders] and praying mantises — play with these things and take them home.

We grew up in the projects: Daniel Heights projects at the time in Saginaw. My mom — she was a single parent. She would work maybe third shift — come home to get us ready for school and rest while we were at school.

In middle school, I was inducted to the National Jr. Honor Society. This was a program, you know, for people who were doing well in school. I went to the awards ceremony and she couldn’t be there so I went there by myself. I saw everybody there with their families, you know their parents, people who were supporting them, and I just felt alone at the moment and I decided to walk home.

And here I am with this certificate and I just remember crumpling that thing up — throwing it in the river and saying “Well, no one cares anyway. Why should I?”

I think immediately you could see my behavior drop and change in school. I became problematic. I think that carried on through high school the first couple of years, and I ended up dropping out.

I mean I walked the streets a lot. I remember several times my mom driving 11 or 12 o’clock at night looking for me — then finding me and not even saying anything. I knew that red Ford Contour. She’d just stop and I'd just open the car door and get in. 

I know my mom said one time she feared one day she'd come home and she'd see yellow tape around the house.

My mom would tell me to "at least get a GED." I took that negatively and decided I would show her I could do more.

In my research, I use bacteria to study evolution in real time. We know that life first evolved in an environment where there was no oxygen, and by understanding how things are maintained or lost over time, we can start to design systems that (in the face of climate change or in the face of evolution) maintains its value to the organism.

I put myself through a lot of stress, did a lot of things that I probably wouldn’t have done had I known where I would be today. And I think that’s the beauty of life. There is an infinite amount of outcomes.

MSU BEST seeks to enhance trainees’ ability to develop the confidence and competencies useful in navigating and choosing from diverse career opportunities. To learn more about becoming part of the BEST community, visit

Photos and video by Alec Gerstenberger