Anyango Kamina, PhD, in her office.

Anyango Kamina, PhD, immigrated to the United States as a child, and later had to deal with an uncertain immigration status as she tried to navigate her path toward a doctoral degree.

Overcoming Unexpected Obstacles Along Life’s Paths

By Dirk Hoffman

Published April 3, 2023

Guests on the “Debriefing With The DOPe Doctor” podcast share the struggles they have faced and the triumphs they have achieved on their journeys through life.

“Life is not really a choice of where we started, but it is certainly about how we finish. ”
Larry Daniel
Security officer at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Fourth-year medical student Daniel Oluwagbemileke Popoola, PhD, the creator and host of the podcast, says “inspiration is the motivaional power of story sharing.”

“I really want my guests to reflect on their experiences,” he says.

Visa Determines Availability of Resources

Anyango Kamina, PhD, interim unit diversity officer, assistant dean for student development and academic enhancement and director of the Natural Sciences Interdisciplinary Master’s Program at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, was one of Popoola’s first guests on the podcast.

She notes she immigrated to the United States as a child and initially had the same access to resources as her American friends, but as she got older those resources became limited due to the type of visa she had.

This resulted in Kamina not be able to apply for financial aid, or work summer jobs/part-time jobs or get full access to research opportunities. 

“I grew up here a really long time, but I was on a visa the whole time. I blended in with American culture, but my documents were not American,” she says. “It was a struggle that I had. My friends would say ‘we can do this; we’re going to go work here.’ And I would have to say, ‘I can’t work in this country.’

“It was a very individual experience, especially when you are surrounded by people — but nobody had the same situation as me,” she adds.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

Kamina says she feels it is important for people to share their stories because they never know when someone else may be going through a similar experience —  in her case, an immigrant whose visa type determined what types of resources she could access.

“I knew that I wanted to do research and one of the things that makes you competitive for PhD programs is your research experience,” she says. “A turning point for me was when I was able to get a summer research program when I was basically in limbo with my status.

“Depending on which direction it had leaned toward — whether I got the green card or I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to go,” Kamina adds. “That opportunity is what really catapulted me — it made me feel I had the experience to apply for a graduate school program and feel confident I was competitive.”

Kamina says many summer research programs had rejected her because of program rules that required applicants to either be U.S. citizens or green card holders.

“Since I applied for a status change, but was still waiting, these programs did not know how to categorize me,” she says.

“My message would be to ‘apply, because you never know if a school may have had a similar situation before and may have a protocol in place.’ Everyone rejected me except for one place and that was really a turning point for me.”

Kamina went on to earn a doctoral degree in microbiology and immunology through the PhD Program in Biomedical Sciences at the Jacobs School.

Larry Daniel in the Jacobs School.

Security officer Larry Daniel is a beloved figure in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and can often be found sharing a smile or a laugh with students, staff and faculty alike.

Accident Injuries Cause Change in Course

Larry Daniel, a security officer at the Jacobs School, has been another guest on the podcast.

A Buffalo native, he began working as a hospital aide at the Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) before transitioning into security work and eventually beginning a career as a New York State Department of Corrections officer in 2000.

He worked at several correctional facilities around the state, but in 2004 he was involved in a horrific accident when a motorist struck him while he was riding his motorcycle at the intersection of Bailey and Winspear avenues in Buffalo.

Daniel suffered bleeding on the brain, a punctured lung, broken ribs, and a devastating injury to his right arm.

“My clavicle caused my nerves that control my right arm to be uprooted from my spine,” he says. “I also had a torn bicep and had to have a skin graft from my thigh to replace the tissue in my arm.”

He was hospitalized at ECMC for several weeks and at one point the doctors told his family Daniel “probably had 24 hours to live.”

When he regained consciousness, he quickly came to the anguished realization that his right arm was paralyzed — thus ending his career as a state DOC officer.

“I was not able to complete the annual firearm safety training that is necessary,” he says. “It was a painful experience to lie there and accept the fact my life would never be the same.”

Steady Source of Comfort at Jacobs School

On the road to recovery, Daniel tried several customer service jobs, but felt unfulfilled so he went back to security work. He eventually found his way to the Jacobs School, where he makes a difference by connecting with students, faculty and staff on a daily basis during his 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shifts.

His welcoming presence often leads to students seeking him out for advice or an informal pep talk.

Many often stop by Daniel’s security desk to chat — prompting one staff member to label it the “Let It Out Desk.”

“As I meet these students as they pursue their education, I want to be there to encourage them in spite of them being out of their safety zone — away from family and friends,” he says. “Each student is someone’s child, and many are dealing with different things, such as anxiety.

“When I was growing up there were people who doubted me,” Daniel adds. “When I passed the DOC exam, I stood in the shower and cried because people said I couldn’t do it, but I did.”

Daniel, who is pastor of St. James House of Prayer Church of God in Christ on Michigan Avenue in Buffalo, cites a Biblical passage from Proverbs: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.

“I believe that I speak positivity into the lives of these students who walk past me, encouraging them by telling them they know more than they think,” he says. “We may never remember what people say, but we will certainly remember how they made us feel.”

Daniel says it means a lot to him when students ask him to attend their graduation ceremonies.

“I tell these new doctors that I am that patient waiting in the hospital for them to come and tell me they have reached a breakthrough in research that can help me,” he says. “They are the ones who will pave the way and help improve our quality of life.

“That is my message for the generation that comes through these doors that I help secure.”

As a child, Daniel says he always thought in order to make his parents proud he had to become a doctor or a lawyer.

“But as I went through life, I have come to learn that whatever it is that you enjoy doing, just be the best at it,” he says. “Life is not really a choice of where we started, but it is certainly about how we finish.”